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FEBRUARY ALBUMS | MUSIC REVIEW

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BARDO POND ****

Volume 8 (Fire)

Astral travellers Bardo Pond return with their latest batch of introspective songs wrapped in a gauze of fuzz and echo. It feels like business as usual upon hearing the one-two punch of dirgey openers Kailash and Flayed Wish, but sticking with Volume 8 reveals oysters amid the grit. Power Children is especially nice, acoustic guitars strummed in what sounds like a canyon wash over a bed of paisley chirrups and tweets leaving the listener (Mazzy) starstruck. AJ

DJANGO DJANGO ***

Marble Skies (Because Music)

Following the critical slaying of their second long player, Django Django return with a half-decent offering, which improves significantly if you start at the lounge synth Blancmange wobble of Champagne – skipping the Devo-esque titular opener and the inexplicably shoddy r’n’b of Surface to Air. Cherrypick further beyond fizzy single Tic Tac Toe, and you’ve got the dayglo 808 adventure of Real Gone and Sundials, its piano, cornet and jazzy chorus evoking the innocence of a primetime 70s kids’ TV theme. CS

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DREAM WIFE ****

Dream Wife (Lucky Number)

Since starting out as a “fake girl band” formed for an art school project, Dream Wife have become the real deal. Recalling Kathleen Hanna’s playful post-Bikini Kill outfit Le Tigre and the classic headrush Cheap Trickery of Mary Timony’s Ex Hex, their self-titled debut is feisty and ebullient, a glitterbomb of youthful exuberance and energy, a meeting point of pop nous and pithy political sloganeering, a treasure trove of sparkling singles. If you’re looking for the perfect antidote to the January blues, then this album is it. BW

FRANZ FERDINAND ****

Always Ascending (Domino)

This is the first non-collaborative album since 2013 from Scotland’s music royalty and their fifth to date. A changed line-up with two new members and a much-touted new sound, but still classic Franz with ramped up synths, Sparks influences and shades of Lou Reed and Talking Heads. The grooving title track should lift them to the top of the charts with Alex Kapranos’ Bowie-esque baritone; Lazy Boy’s lazy lyrics and the album’s closing snoozefest mar an otherwise very good LP. RLR

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GO-KART MOZART ***

Mozart’s Mini Mart (Cherry Red)

The story of Go-Kart Mozart’s Lawrence Hayward stretches back nearly 40 years, when he released his first single as Felt, and includes plenty of (self-)mythology. The sleevenotes for this, his fourth album as GKM, even include a brief list of media to help you find out more about him. Possibly, some context may be needed to grok this 17-song chunter of intentionally cheap-sounding synthpop, often juxtaposing maddeningly jaunty music with crushingly bleak lyrics. Alternatively, you might quickly understand why he’s some people’s idea of a n*tional tr*asure. NG

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HAILU MERGIA ****

Lala Belu (Awesome Tapes From Africa)

Sure as eggs is generally eggs, anything Awesome Tapes release is worth your eartime. This time it’s Ethiopian jazz dude Hailu Mergia, veteran pianist and accordionist, and part-time taxi driver, whose first new stuff in 15 years follows some recent well-bundled AFTA reissues. Drums and double bass hold it down like a snazzy bar band, while Mergia wanders up and down the keys octopus style. And on the title track, the sole vocal: lolloping, joyous and sung up to heaven. Pure sunshine. WS

HIGH RISE *****

II (Black Editions)

This Tokyo band’s 1986 album is an obscurity in the wider world, but utterly formative and vital amidst a sprawling rock underground that rams together psychedelia, punk and noise. High Rise’s three members were determined to push guitar-bass-drums to uncharted limits, and succeeded during a brutal half-hour of feedback, solos, chaotic drums and tantalisingly faraway vocals. This reissue by new US label Black Editions restores II’s original sleeve and, remixed/remastered by band member Asahito Nanjo, sounds quite immense. NG

HOOKWORMS **

Microshift (Domino)

Unlike Hookworms’ first two albums, both developed by playing live, Microshift has been honed and crafted in the studio. The krautrock/psych guitar fuzz of their live sound that dominated the first two albums has been dialled right down; there are songs, there are synths, samples and layers but it feels too controlled and contrived. If I’d never heard LCD Soundsystem and didn’t love Clinic this may have grabbed me but for this listener, it’s a no. GT

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JOHN MOUSE *****

Replica Figures (Keep Me In Your Heart)

Replica Figures suffers from a welcome obsession with memory. After the gut-churning narrative of opener End Of Mankind, John Mouse’s latest is in turns touching, hilarious and heart-breaking. As with memories, the sweeter (Sue) flies by, while the heavier (The Boxer) seem to linger a little too long. This only completes the concept perfectly. Finisher Gladiator Contender is an illustration of how memory links the pointless to the poignant, the loss of loved ones set alongside Saturday night TV. JPD

LEMURIA ***
Recreational Hate (Big Scary Monsters)
This digital version of this record has no doubt been played to death by Lemuria’s legion of fans thanks to their quirk of releasing ‘secret’ LPs. Recreational Hate, their fourth full-length, was put on sale back in August of last year in a playful take on a crowdfunder. The recipients have essentially been sold a throwback to college radio of the 1990s – all very tuneful but far from deserving of repeating listening. Not quite robbed, certainly knowingly undersold. BG

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THE LOVELY EGGS ****

This Is Eggland (Egg)

The hardest working DIYers in the country have lovingly crafted something that’s more than worth listening to. Anyone who’s encountered the Lovely Eggs duo before will have an idea of what’s to come: crashing drums, raucous guitars and a journey into the surreal world that their lyrics often conjure. This record is louder and heavier than previous releases, and is brimmed with anthems for us, the disillusioned masses. This should be administered on the NHS as an antidote to these fucked-up times. GT

NICK J.D. HODGSON ***

Tell Your Friends (Prediction)

Breaking away from the Kaiser Chiefs’ signature indie rock style to create a dreamier sound, Nick J.D. Hodgson’s harmoniously layered vocals are reminiscent of a hazy summer day. Tell Your Friends sees Hodgson tune into his feelings in an honest collection of feel-good tracks and melancholy love songs, combining Beatles-eque harmonies with a 70s vibe. While the variation in tone is minimal, his sombre yet uplifting mix of songs makes for an impressively nostalgic solo debut. KW

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NIGHTMARES ON WAX ****

Shape The Future (Warp)

Nightmares On Wax, along with LFO, helped launch Warp Records nearly three decades ago, with their electronic bleeps and techno beats. Since those days of sweaty warehouse raves, the sound of NOW has evolved magnificently to encompass dub, hip-hop and soul, via stoned instrumental grooves. Shape The Future, their mighty fine new album, includes a track titled Citizen Kane: a soulful gospel/blues hybrid which could possibly be the best song that Nightmares On Wax have ever released. DN

SIMPLE MINDS *****

Walk Between Worlds (BMG)

Revisiting the anthem-driven spirit of their heyday, with Walk Between Worlds the seasoned Glaswegian art-rockers resurrect a stadium sound that cemented their status as new wave pin-ups. Slick production values lace Jim Kerr’s crooning vocals on standouts Magic and Sense Of Discovery, the latter recalling their giddy mid-80s peak, whilst elsewhere sublime string arrangements are merged with electronica on an album that subtly fuses nostalgia with the new. Catch the band at Cyfarthfa Park later this year alongside the Pretenders. CHP

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THE SPOOK SCHOOL ****

Could It Be Different? (Alcopop!)

There’s something comfortable about the latest offering from the Scottish four-piece. Tracks feel familiar – perhaps it’s their 70s pop and punk influences. Whether the song is about painful adolescence (High School), surviving an abusive relationship (Still Alive) or accepting yourself (The Body), the Spooks sing from experience – and this makes the album more than just lyrics about life, love and insecurities paired with jolly tunes. Could It Be Different could have been maudlin but why be sad when you can be hopeful? LN

SUNWATCHERS *****

II (Trouble In Mind)

What an original title for a sandblasted free-rocking psychedelic noise unit’s second album, he hooted in the vain hope that people might have read all the reviews on the page. Brooklyn’s Sunwatchers don’t especially resemble High Rise, but are comparably shaggy, amp-worshipping and inspired. Big servings of cosmic jazz lurk among punkily boisterous throwdowns, sax slaloming through wah pedals barrel-rolling into yobbo drums. This album absolutely rips and they’ve also pledged to donate any profits from it to righteous American leftist orgs, so cough up comrades. NG

SUSANNA ***

Go Dig My Grave (Sonata)

There’s a cover of Lou Reed’s Perfect Day here that doesn’t quite make you think fondly of 1997’s all-star Children In Need version, but isn’t far off. Happily it’s about the only duff choice Norwegian folk musician Susanna Wallumrød makes on GDMG, a collection of mostly covers, of mostly US and UK traditionals and standards. It has the austere bleakness of Laura Cannell or the Unthanks, sometimes histrionic, but sometimes devastating, as in the terrific, walls-closing-in take of Joy Division’s Wilderness. Party! WS

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THE TEMPERANCE MOVEMENT ****

A Deeper Cut (Earache)

After the departure of two founding members, and singer Phil Campbell’s slow slip back into drug abuse, this is bit of a make-or-break third album. Not that it shows. The Temperance Movement sound relaxed, confident and honest. What more could you ask for: great vocals, great riffs, great songs? It’s all here, complete with 70s rock references that never sound dated or unimaginative. If the album dips a little in the slower second half, it’s only in comparison to its brilliant openers. JPD

TURIN BRAKES ****

Invisible Storm (Cooking Vinyl)

Turin Brakes have made subtle reinvention their trademark since their early millennium heyday. What hasn’t changed is their solid songwriting and brilliant vocal performances. But Invisible Storm is at its best when the songs are given some room to breathe. Wait and Life Forms are hook-laden, complete with handclaps and do-do-do loops from the hit folder that saw them contribute to Take That’s Circus album. Album closers Smoke and Mirrors and Don’t Know Much are where the real beauty lies. JPD

WILD BEASTS ****

Last Night All My Dreams Came True (Domino)

As their career draws to a close, Wild Beasts create the perfect sendoff with this rhythmic, synth-heavy record. This eclectic mix combines Hayden Thorpe’s sensual falsetto with the gruff baritone of Tom Fleming and layers them over soft electronic melodies, bringing the best of the beasts together. While the four-piece may be putting their instruments down for good, their unique take on the indie genre will transcend their lifespan with this ethereal compilation. KW

THE WOMBATS *****

Beautiful People Will Ruin Your Life (Kobalt)

The Liverpudlians who can make even the most depressing subjects upbeat are back with their fourth album offering hook-laden, jangly guitar-driven, sometimes psych-drenched pop with witty, never-boring stories involving mental health, longing and fighting, among other things. More polished than previously, they’re out of the gate with two strong singles. There’s no filler here, just melodic and danceable tunes like White Eyes with these lyrics: “It’s hard to keep my chin up when my guts are lying on the floor.RLR

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