Tuesday, 25 February 2014

This Week's New Music feat The Afghan Whigs, Real Estate, Oliver Wilde and more...

It's Friday already? Are you sure? Well it's a good thing I've kept my ear to the ground this past week and spotted a whole bunch of new music ready and waiting for you to check out.  

Album Review:Wild Beasts – Present Tense


Bands can get a lot of flack for championing literary tendencies but Wild Beasts are one band that seems to revel in their highbrow allusions and have made themselves a unique voice in British music for it. Not many bands would have a single with a title like Brave Bulging Buoyant Clairvoyants, and as such they can be filled next to These New Puritans, another band whose lofty ambition have left them hard to pin down with obvious genre labels.

The group really hit their stride with the 2009's Mercury nominated Two Dancers and only continued to mature with its follow-up Smother where they began to explore the electronic tones that have come to the forefront of the group’s fourth album Present Tense. As a result the band's sounds has become a little colder and darker though like a film score balances the mood of the lyrics of the two front men Hayden Thorpe and Tom Fleming. Working with Brian Eno affiliated producer Leo Abrahams, the group aimed to abandon guitars when they began writing these song and though the instrument does still appear it is used like the synthesizers that now make up the backbone of their sound, creating texture and rhythm before melody.

Present Tense's first track Wanderlust begins with the line 'We're decadent beyond our means' though Wild Beasts are anything but decadent, showing an almost machine-like economy in their songwriting. That's not to say it lacks a human touch but it's efficient, not a second feels wasted. Beginning with a heavy 3/4 drum beat that strikes with robotic precision accompanied by choir of processed voices fill out the track in a way that is equally epic and understated. It's relentless motorik beat rides through the track unchanging holding an urgency that underpins the drama that underpins the direct lyrics 'Don't confuse me with someone who gives a fuck'. There are echoes of Bowie's Berlin period and new-wave alongside touches of ambient electronica throughout Present Tense as the band stretches out with smooth electric funk A Simple Beautiful Truth or the spacious sound and filmic build of Pregnant Pause.

There are hooks and big moments here, but they are counterweighted with the slight and subtle. The vocals feel reigned in compared to previous albums, though the melodies of Hayden and Tom still dance around like a choreographed performance. There are very few bands that come up with rhyming couplets like “There is a godless state/Where the real and the dream may consummate” on Sweet Spot that sounds downright poetic under Tom Fleming's weighty voice. The song feels minimal, but there is a lot going on here between the airy guitars and a simple but complimentary synth line that draws the song to its end.

Wild Beasts are a band whose song writing has gone from strength to strength and on this album nothing seems out of place, like the audio equivalent of the expertly framed shot a director like Kubrick would use with every bit of the frame aiding the story, free of any unnecessary clutter. There are no real chinks in the armour of this album, it remains cohesive throughout, though its electronic tones and clean sounds can leave you a little distant at times as if its almost too pristine and meticulous. There is a clarity to the production, clean and clear. With a strive for something smoother, this seems like the band's pop album. Not that the band are aiming for the charts, but the end result is cohesive and accessible. It makes Present Tense a creative and rewarding listen from a band at the forefront of British music.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Album Review:Angel Olsen – Burn Your Fire For No Witness


Listening to Missouri-born Chicago-based singer-songwriter Angel Olsen's first album Halfway Home was such a personal piece of work it often felt like taking a voyeuristic look into her thoughts. The album made for a intimate and engrossing listen and - at least I feel - was one of the most overlooked records of 2012.

Olsen began to get people's attention with her first EP Strange Cacti, originally just a cassette release, it showed a promising talent, with stripped back songs, just an acoustic guitar, a voice and enough reverb to wash the recordings in a spectral mystery and got her enough attention to tour as part of Bonnie "Prince" Billy's backing band. Her debut album Half Way Home abandoned the reverb shroud for a upfront approach. Working with Bonnie collaborator Emmett Kelley who help add instrumentation, but shown a great deal of restraint never taking up space that Olsen's voice could fill, with the hook-laden Roy Orbison-like pop of The Waiting being an exception.

For her follow up album Burn Your Fire For No Witness she has assembled a backing band to fill out her sound which she hinted towards with the grungier style of last year's Sweet Dreams single. It's not a huge departure as much as a continuation of the themes she had already began to explored, love, loss and a sense spirituality are the biggest concerns here, but musically there is something more immediate at play here. With this album a punk-rock heart that wasn't so obvious on Half Way home has come to the fore.

Burn Your Fire begins with Unfucktheworld, a title that seems to embody a punk ethos whilst the song itself is closer to the material from Strange Cacti, a simple and sweet lo-fi song with just Olsen's voice and guitar and then two minutes later the distorted guitar and pounding drums of Forgiven/Forgotten, the most riotous song she's written, enter. As the track ends with more of a guitar freak out than solo I've been serenaded and then bombarded with two extremes that show I'm in for an interesting ride with this album.

White Fire is a real stand out, the finger picked guitar line is almost reminiscent of Leonard Cohen's Suzanne and like Cohen, Angel Olsen has a voice that can stop you in your tracks and draw in all of your attention. Her lyrics are worth pouring over, revealing there meaning slowly over many listens and you her just as much meaning in her voice, as it wavers or lingers on a note, as in her lyrics. And it's in her voice that her real strength lies, allowing straightforward lines like 'Won't you open a window sometime / What's so wrong with the light', near the end of the album's last track Window, to carry a real weight to them.

Her backing band does a great job to support her as the guitars and drums create an epic crescendo on the aforementioned Window or how Slow Dance Decades uses a full sound to develop from a quiet whisper into a huge tumbling waltz. Whilst tracks like White Fire and Enemy reaffirm what Olsen made clear on that debut EP, all she needs is a guitar and her voice to impress, it's clear that also knows how to write a scrappy rock tune and has more than enough attitude to pull it off. Burn Your Fire For No Witness is an often stunning album, even if part of me misses some of the featherweight production touches of Olsen's first album, the fuller sound of a full band lets the instruments pack a much bigger punch alongside her voice. If there way any criticisms of Halfway Home, it that it was a little two subdued but this album addresses that balance and then some. In the middle of the album on Lights Out as she sings 'If you don't feel good about it then turn around' you know Angel Olsen isn't looking back for a second.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Monday, 17 February 2014

This Week's New Music feat. Phantogram, Slasher Flicks, Yumi Zouma and more...

It may be that day for obligatory romantic gestures(I originally wrote this up on valentines day), but romance won't get in the way of my weekly delivery of new music...

Monday, 10 February 2014

This Week's New Music feat Klaxons, Owen Pallet, Jamie xx and more...

Ah, you're just in time for my weekly run down of brand new music. I've got a bunch of recently announced new albums to get through as well as some music that may only ever exist as an online stream. This crazy internet age. Let's get to it.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Album Review:Xiu Xiu – Angel Guts: Red Classroom

(Bella Union)

Xiu Xiu are not an easy group to pin down. The band, centred around front man Jamie Stewart, have gone through an ever changing line-up ensuring no two albums sound the same. Collaborating with artists like Grouper, Devandra Banhart and Michael Gira of Swans as well as taking unexpected turns, like last years album of Nina Simone covers. There are some common threads in his music. They write dark electronic pop songs full of bitter humour, dark subject matters, and self-deprecating shown with album titles like Dear God, I Hate Myself and Fag Patrol. All of this is evident on the group's new album Angel Guts: Red Classroom but its taken to an extreme. The title is taken from a Japanese erotic film from the seventies and the album's lyrics depict the Los Angeles neighbourhood to which Stewart recently moved unaware of its reputation for murder and gang violence.

Often Stewart would use a happy melody or acoustic instrument to add the juxtaposition of warmth to his lyrically dark songs but with Angel Guts he has limited his sonic palette to just analog synths, drum set and 1970′s analog drum machines. Cold analogue tones befitting a dystopian sci-fi film are dedicated to creating an unwelcoming atmosphere, a feeling of hopelessness and the sense of a problem that can't be solved.

The first track Angel Guts mostly compromises of a quiet field recording, like that barley audible hum that is ever-present in any city. It last for three minutes and shows that a) this is not an easy listen and b) this album captures a loneliness, that irony of being surrounded by people but having nobody to talk to. Stupid in the Dark begins like those aggressive creations of influential New York band Suicide. A drum machine beat gives form to the hurried rhythm as analog instruments become primal creatures, spewing bursts of harsh noises. Tracks like El Naco showcase Stewart's erratic delivery; part paranoid fever dream, part unhinged cry of terror. The overall effect is like a heady blend of early industrial music like Throbbing Gristle with the surreal and abrasive black melodrama of Scott Walker's recent output.

New Life Immigration tells of a double suicide, and musically and lyrically offers one of the more hopeful moments here. Unlike on the other tracks a way out is presented from fear and anger, a chance at peace is offered in the repeated line “We don't need to live be loved”. Almost anthemic, Botanica de Los Angeles stands out near the end of the album with its huge defiant stomp of a mechanical drum beat and rumbling bass line as a fuzzy lead line snakes its way around the mix.

Even though the album is made up of track that hang around the three minute mark this is not an easy listen. It may seem like I’m overstating how dark it is but there isn't anything redeeming in these tales of death and depravity though you do feel like these stories are coming through a character, his psyche battered and whipped into a paranoid frenzy, a victim of his environment or just an unreliable narrator. Angel Guts: Red Classroom is an odd listen but it does create a place, not one that you'd ever want to spend much time but it feels like Xiu Xiu gave their all to this concept and it makes for an interesting experience.

Originally posted on figure8magazine.co.uk

Friday, 7 February 2014

(A slightly late) This Week's New Music feat. Timbre Timbre, Holly Herndon, Quantic and more...

Just popping by to share a bunch of new music. This week I've got shoe gazing rock, Latin grooves and some sliced-up electronica amongst my selection. Let's not waste any more time and get to it.