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FEBRUARY ALBUMS | MUSIC REVIEW

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AMBER RUN *****

For A Moment, I Was Lost (Easy Life)

Nottingham’s Amber Run haven’t had an easy run the last couple of years but the boys are back on form. They’re still focusing on themes of anger, torment and mental health but now from a different prospective. Lyrically and thematically, the band have progressed, and For A Moment, I Was Lost is more upbeat and melodic than their previous work. Joe Keogh, with the familiar catch in his voice, gives the tracks an emotional edge. Pleasantly relaxing. Deserves to catch on. LN

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AUSTRA **
Future Politics (Domino)

Third album from Torontonian Katie Stelmanis and co, which fails to live up to the (mainly Canadian-based) hype surrounding their 2011 debut Feel It Break and sophomore effort Olympia. There’s nothing wrong with the songs themselves, it’s just the way they’ve been arranged. The mainly electronic instrumentation seems lazy and dated and despite Stelmanis’ stellar vocal talents, they don’t quite push the songs into multiple-listen territory. Christine And The Queens are doing something similar but much, much better. BG

AWA POULO ****

Paulo Warali (Awesome Tapes From Africa)

Probably the best label set up by a nebbish American former exchange student called Brian, ATFA has changed nicely from obscurity blog to reissue champs to – on Paulo Warali – all new material providers. Already something of a big deal locally, Awa Paulo sings in the Peulh language of Mali, sounding devotional at all times, her backing band a limber crew on lute-like n’goni, gourd percussion and spiralling flute. Background touches of rasping desert guitar add to what is an entrancing, very lovely listen. WS

DANIEL HERSKEDAL****

The Roc (Edition)

Edition continues its triumphant quest to be Cardiff’s answer to the ECM label with this excellent jazz album from Herskedal – which is named after the bird of pan-Asian mythology, and not Dwayne Johnston, you philistines. Inspired by trips to some of the more troublesome regions of the Middle East, this is a celebration of Arabic culture, rhythms, and their idioms and is nowhere near as heavy as this sounds, due to the elegance of Herskedal’s compositions and his mastery of the tuba and bass trumpet. CS

DEAR READER ***

Day Fever (City Slang)

Indie pop with a side helping of darkness, this is the fourth album from Cherilyn MacNeil aka Dear Reader. Recorded straight to tape in John Vanderslice’s San Francisco studio, this record has a raw and honest mood: on the opening track, MacNeil’s delicate vocals and warm acoustics take us on an exploration of grief. This sets the scene for the album, with songs about murder, being chased through the forest and the anxieties of life. It’s not bleak, but it is eerie. GT

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DUKE GARWOOD *****

Garden Of Ashes (Heavenly)

Garden Of Ashes has a more evolved sound than 2015’s highly regarded Heavy Love. The Smoke Fairies provide backing vocals that bring a beam of light to Garwood’s dark and apocalyptic world.  This record should ideally be listened to in a darkened room, while sitting comfortably in an old leather Chesterfield armchair with a glass of vintage malt whisky in one hand, as the world outside gets crazier and hazier with the uncertain times ahead. This is an amazing album. DN

DUTCH UNCLES ****

Big Balloon (Memphis Industries)

Drawing upon the art-rock scope of XTC, Scritti Politti and 80s/90s-era Kate Bush for reference, this fifth LP from the quintet keenly flits between kooky guitar moments and sublime synth sophistication. Standout tracks Combo Box and Hiccup define the off-kilter tempo and rhythm of an album that underscores the band’s signature quirky new wave sound. Sleek and peppy, Big Balloon proves a spritely and consistent release that neatly fits within the baroque pop bracket of their previous work. CHP

ELIZA CARTHY & THE WAYWARD BAND *****

Big Machine (Topic)

Eliza Carthy continues in her quest to revitalize British folk music with her latest, searing collection of songs. On Big Machine the daughter of folk royalty is on her best, uncompromising, form with The Wayward Band who were formed to tour her recent best of album. Influenced by the ramshackle, big band sound of Bellowhead, and her own work with The Imagined Village, this album sounds both vital and full of vitality, capturing Carthy’s impassioned delivery of music new and old. JPD

FRANK CARTER & THE RATTLESNAKES ***

Modern Ruin (International Death Cult)

I’m going to refrain from mentioning Frank Carter’s past projects as he’s pretty much cemented himself as his own artist now. Of course he’s known for his former guises, which were great, but it’s great to see him and the Rattlesnakes coming into their own. Album opener Bluebell lulls one into a false sense of relaxation before the following 11 tracks thunder from start to finish. Lullaby is quite unlike its title implies, all the while adopting a distinct Kasabian vibe, and Wild Flowers’ beat also sounds niiiice. OS

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HARK *****

Machinations (Season Of Mist)

On the much-anticipated follow up to 2014’s Crystalline, Jimbob and the boys have upped their game once again with Machinations. Gargantuan riffs layered over perfect head-nodding grooves, this is a band at the top of their game. The addition of a second guitarist has given them an extra dimension and a beautifully crisp production job has perfectly captured the raw sonic capabilities of the band. Never ones to look back, Hark are once again dragging stoner/hard rock into new territories. CA

HORISONT ****

About Time (Century Media)

Sweden, the textbook forward-thinking nation in the eyes of many, also has a contradictory sideline: producing the most fastidiously accurate retro rock bands to be found anywhere. Gothenburg quintet Horisont, now on their fifth album, match up to the likes of Witchcraft and Spiders, but evoke the more cheerfully commercial side of 70s hard/prog rock, with nods to Thin Lizzy’s wistful boogie (Night Line) and buoyant, almost disco-y keyboards (Dark Sides). Electrical would have been the one-week-at-number-26 single if this was actually 1978. NG

JOSHUA RADIN ****

The Fall (self-released)

Joshua Radin wisely decided to self-produce his seventh album release. The Fall doesn’t hide behind layers of sound, but opens its heart for all to hear. Enough For You is a beautifully simple standout that places songwriting and delivery at the centre of a commercial release. Radin’s music is well-used on TV and The Fall shows you why. Radin is able to walk the line between accessibility and honesty with the deft touch of a personable professional. JPD

KROKOFANT ****

III (Rune Grammofon)

Norwegian underground groups who drink deep and simultaneously from the weirder ends of both jazz and rock are plentiful. Krokofant are relative outsiders in a close-knit, even incestuous scene, but their third album shows them to be as creative and thrilling as any countrymen. An instrumental trio of guitar, drums and sax, they excel when combining 70s prog a la King Crimson with skronky European free jazz – likewise their forays into Cream-meets-Rangda guitar soloing on Double Dad and Wrong Turn. NG

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LOWER THAN ATLANTIS ****

Safe In Sound (Easy Life/Red Essential)

Picking up nicely from where they left off with 2014’s self-titled album, new offering Safe In Sound screams trademark Lower Than Atlantis, but also ventures on a journey to parts unknown. Standout tracks Had Enough and Work For It arguably give a much truer representation of the band than the previous record; LTA frontman Mike Duce feels that the tracks are some of “the best Lower Than Atlantis songs ever”. Definitely one for the rockers out there. OS

MENACE BEACH ****
Lemon Memory (Memphis Industries)

Coming out as it does a smidge over two years since their debut Ratworld, we’ve barely had time to process the arrival of Menace Beach. Whilst Lemon Memory isn’t as musically urgent, it trumps their debut in just about every other way. Opener and lead single Give Blood is a more interesting take on The Kills’ style of stripped down r’n’r, Sentimental is just sublime and the slower second half of the record amalgamates surf rock and shoegaze effortlessly. BG

THE MENZINGERS ****

After The Party (Epitaph)

The fifth album from Philadelphia punks The Menzingers focuses on something that we can all relate to, because we’ve either been there, or we are on our way: the end of one’s twenties. Told through some excellent songwriting, which brings to mind Against Me, each track is a glorious ode to having to grow up without growing up. This is punk rock with honesty, the way it used to be, powerful and catchy, but with heart. CA

MOON DUO ****

Occult Architecture Vol. I (Sacred Bones)

Husband-and-wife combo Ripley Johnson (also of Wooden Shjips) and Sanae Yamada set out to play Suicide-style music with guitars. That they’ve achieved that feat over the course of three albums is surely recommendation enough. Their fourth is a yin/yang two-parter, the first half of which features familiar trepanning riffs and motorik rhythms but also added novelty. {The Death Set} feels like being hypnotised by stoned Daleks, but the prime 80s goth of Will Of The Devil is the biggest surprise. BW

NELL BRYDEN ****

Bloom (157)

Finding happiness with marriage and motherhood  has made singer-songwriter Bryden blossom on her fifth album. Coming full-circle and going back to her roots (recalling King, Nyro, Simon) with this mostly soft rock work, you hear her soaring range on the lovely In The Morning and Feels So Good To Cry. It’s not all roses, though, as Bryden reflects on abusive, volatile past relationships (not just hers), and kicks it out too, going bluesy and soulful on My House, Gunshot Grey. RLR

OMAR SOSA & SECKOU KEITA ***

Transparent Water (World Village/Harmonia Mundi)

Back in 1995, when Eric Cantona delivered his infamous “when the seagulls follow the trawler…” speech, everyone knew that he was saying something profound, but the meaning is still elusive. Similarly, this collaboration between Cuban pianist Sosa and kora master and singer Keita reaches deep, but the meaning may not be interpreted quite as intended. The serenity of Transparent Water charms, especially on In The Forest, but more kora and fluid interplay a la Fatiliku could have made this a bigger haul. CS

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PVT ****

New Spirit (Felte)

The fifth album from this London-based Aussie trio arrives as mechanical, politically charged dark and cryptic electronica with a distinctive rock sensibility. If that sounds convoluted, know that it’s because this recording fuses conventional song structures with highly original and multi-timbred samples, synths and all manner of noises. They could be compared here to a more radical latter-day Radiohead. It’s pleasantly unsettling throughout and the warped and deformed vocals carry an equally uncompromising message along with it. CPI

SUMMER MOON **

With You Tonight (DTF/Membran)

Considering With You Tonight features Nikolai Fraiture of The Strokes and Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction it has a distinct demo tape feel about it. Though musically sound, the 10 short tracks seem unfinished and lyrically unpolished. On songs such as Happenin’ and Car vs Bldg, Nicolai’s vocals have a nasal and echoey quality at odds with the postpunk and Caribbean-esque beats. The haunting Walk Out Music would have worked as an instrumental – in fact, the whole album would have. LN

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