sun 21/07/2024

theartsdesk on Vinyl 81: Nobro, Adrian Sherwood, Evian Christ, Ozric Tentacles, Maple Glider, Viken Arman and more | reviews, news & interviews

theartsdesk on Vinyl 81: Nobro, Adrian Sherwood, Evian Christ, Ozric Tentacles, Maple Glider, Viken Arman and more

theartsdesk on Vinyl 81: Nobro, Adrian Sherwood, Evian Christ, Ozric Tentacles, Maple Glider, Viken Arman and more

The most mind-blowingly extensive regular record reviews in the galaxy

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The first of two December theartsdesk on Vinyls which will appear in quick succession. This one's mostly new artists. The next one will be our Christmas Special, filled with seasonal fare and present-suitable reissues and boxsets.

For the best musical finds, dive in!

VINYL OF THE MONTH

Viken Arman Alone Together (Denature)

vikenMinimalism is easy to do but very, very hard to do well. French producer Viken Arman starts his debut album by thrilling in this area. The word which springs to mind listening to that opener, “You With Me”, is “techno” but, while that’s in there, Arman also sprinkles an almost imperceptible seasoning of global roots music feel… then the next track goes somewhere totally different, noisily deconstructing disco. Over the seven tracks, richly produced and cut accordingly to vinyl, there are a couple of moments when he almost settles to a conventional house sound – but he never quite does. Alone Together is a breath of fresh air. It takes familiar elements and remoulds them into something startling and unique. Comes in art/info inner sleeve.

VINYL REVIEWS

Joyce Street Tied Down (Numero Group)

joyceThe 12” x 12” booklet that comes with Tied Down, a collection of Joyce Street’s recordings, tells the whole back story. Mississippi-raised Street recorded under her maiden name but was happily married to Dave Spence, who worked for the Kmart shopping chain. Together with their family they moved around, living in a variety of different US states including California, Tennessee and Ohio. Wherever they were, between the late-Sixties and the late-Seventies, when they could afford to, they invested in Joyce’s love of recording country. After that, she turned her attention fully to religious music. This collection showcases the former period and a ferocious talent. She has a full voice, wit, attitude; there’s something of both Bobbie Gentry and Dolly Parton about her work. She has a musical style that runs the gamut from ballsy, bluesy honkytonk to pure C&W heartbreakers. Whether bemoaning her itinerant lifestyle in the title track, talkin’ up “Mississippi Moonshine”, or inspired by tectonic plates on “Calfornia You’re Slippin’”, the songs are there, and the recordings are full and fat. She really did deserve to be discovered. But she wasn’t, so now you can.

Nobro Set Your Pussy Free (Dine Alone) + Various Women in Revolt! Underground Rebellion in British Music 1977-1985 (Music For Nations/Tate/Sony)

nobroShows what I know. When the Nobro record arrived I presumed it was by a new band. Partly this is because I’d never heard of Nobro, but partly because Set Your Pussy Free has the raw arrival-statement edge of a debut album In fact, the Canadian all-female punk band have been going for about a decade. The first two songs, the title track and “Let’s Do Drugs”, sound like the lamented Deap Vally at their most punkish but from there the songs dive around between Ramones-ish to the percussive power pop of “I Don’t Feel Like It”. The whole lot has a rambunctiousness that’s part feminist attitude and part unashamed hedonistic blow-out. Both aspects gel together to create a great set. Tate Britain are currently celebrating Nobro’s older sisters in feminism, with their exhibition Women in Revolt, subtitled, “Art, womenActivism and the Women’s Movement in the UK 1970-1990”. Accompanying this is a compilation album on transparent lime vinyl that covers the post-punk period, and features a smattering of better-known material, such as Slits’ deathless “Typical Girls” and X-Ray Spex’s equally beloved “Identity” alongside less familiar cuts, such as the gothic melodicism of Girls At Our Best!’s “Warm Girls”, the queasy ironic synth-pop of “October (Love Song)” by Chris & Cosey, and the honeyed jangle pop of “Trees and Flowers” by Strawberry Switchblade. The Gymslips’ “Dear Marge” revels in new wave power-pop but most of this set, featuring the likes of Poison Girls, Au Pairs, The Raincoats, Marine Girls and more, has a spikier, scratchier percussiveness (in the case of Manchester’s Ludus, to the point of avant-garde-ism). A welcome celebration of music underrated at the time it appeared.

Panda Bear & Sonic Boom Reset in Dub: Reimagined by Adrian Sherwood and On-U Sound (Domino)

sonicWhat a wonderful idea. Take one of the most idiosyncratic albums of recent years and give it to one of Britain’s most consistently ear-entertaining producers to play around with. On the original Reset album Panda Bear and Sonic Boom successfully imagined an unlikely place where The Beach Boys intersected with the more spaced-out fringes of kosmische psychedelia. Adrian Sherwood has gathered together a selection of On-U Sound musicians, led by impeccable bassist Doug Wimbish, to transform these songs into a delightfully stoned-out head-mash which, vitally, retains the tunes, vocals and general feel of the originals, adding extra twinkle to the whole. Sherwood’s work lately has been of a high standard and this is up there with the best of it. Long my the On-U renaissance continue.

Evian Christ Revanchist (Warp)

evianEvian Christ is one of the younger electronic musicians who disinterred Nineties trance music from the deathpit where SERIOUS cultural arbiters had left it after the cheese-fest that closed off the final decade of the 20th century. He came to prominence when Kanye West hauled him in to produce a track in 2013 (for the Yeezus album). Christ’s debut album has, then, been a long time coming (that is a sentence I didn’t realise I’d always wanted to write). Parts of it travels down the route of semi-classical melodic beauty combined with utter pummelling, as per the likes of Tim Exile and Oneohtrix Point Never, while other parts deconstruct the sort of club-pop that Calvin Harris and David Guetta make, rendering it queasy and technoid, and sometimes repurposing it to stadium-sized choral tone music. It’s an original and gigantic album, loud-pressed to plastic (the drums on the opening track sound like an industrial press has invaded the room). Comes in art inner sleeve with a large poster of a giant over-lit baby.

Various Mehmet Aslan presents Senza Decoria: Liebe + Anarchia in Switzerland 1980-1990 (Strut)

swissBerlin-based Swiss-Turkish electronic producer Mehmet Aslan takes a deep dive into what punk wrought in Switzerland. He’s not interested in the obvious, nor, actually, in punk itself, but, instead, the way that punk made wilfully uncommercial experimental music a cause in itself. The set makes a good companion piece to Bongo Joe Records’ 2020 compilation Intenta: Experimental and Electronic Music from Switzerland 1981-93 and, in fact, contains three of the same artists (but different music). However, none of this is well-travelled ground. This double set in info gatefold, with inner sleeves full of detailed notes about the acts, represents an underground distant from the pop-rock mainstream, drawing instead on the avant-garde. Songs such as the dub-funk groove of Café Türk’s “Söyledir” may be approachable but the listener is as likely to come across material such as Elephant Chateau’s “Wir Fangen Mit Arbeit An”, a relentless, woodwind-ish machine chug with a staunch female voice declaiming in German over it, or the clanking’n’strings of Die Welttraumforscher’s “Mondfolklore”. There’s also levity and bounce, notably on side C, which includes two of Aslan’s own, more modern-sounding remixes of tracks by El Deux and KonX. A truly original sonic adventure with dense info to back it up.

Maple Glider I Get Into Trouble (Partisan)

mapleMaple Glider’s 2021 debut album was called To Enjoy is the Only Thing, and her new one is I Get Into Trouble. The latter features a back cover photo with those words tattooed on the Australian singer’s lower stomach, just above what-the-Americans-call “a fanny pack” that’s just about covering her dignity. The lyric inner sleeves features a shot that appears to be of the woman born Tori Zietsch taking a piss (or more!) in the woods. Given these facts, it’d be easy to assume the music within was akin to the riotous perma-party girl-power pop of early Ke$ha or P!NK (as they styled themselves in those days). But it’s not. Maple Glider’s songs are punchy but reflective, sometimes wordy, their subject matter occasionally taking in her love life, but also ranging across memories of friendships, sexual abuse during a religious youth, specific vignettes, snapshot memories, poignant couplets. The music is simple, piano, guitar, her voice sad yet strong, full of feeling. Maple Glider recalls Emmy the Great upon occasion but is very much her own artist. Comes on garish bright pink vinyl.

Various Parchman Prison Prayer: Some Mississippi Sunday Morning (Glitterbeat)

parchThe facts of this release are that producer Ian Brennan, who’s recorded Tinariwen and others, attended a Sunday service at Mississippi’s Parchman Prison in February this year. The prison has, for decades, stood as an exemplar of the innate racism that’s never fully left US society, most especially in the south. The prison also has a longstanding reputation for harshness. If ever there was an album that should come with one of those 12” x 12” booklets containing its back story, it’s this one, but sadly it doesn’t. Instead it simply gives us the prisoners’ voices, mostly acapella, with no overdubs. It puts you there (although, of course, it can never really do that). There are a few group pieces such as the stunning rap-chat “Locked Down, Mama Prays For me…” by J Robinson and A Warren, and both sides end with group gospel singalongs. It’s not an album most would listen to regularly but is still righteously its own thing. Within the grooves is power, the healing power of religion for these men, perhaps exemplified by the desperate gospel plea of one M Kyles’ repeatedly singing, “Break every chain”.

Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou Dahomey Le Sato (Acid Jazz)

voodooAcid Jazz Records take a welcome deep dive into the archival material of Benin’s influential Albarika Store record label. Orchestre Poly-Rythmo de Cotonou Dahomey, led by Mélomé Clément, are an outfit much-picked over by Afro-centric crate-diggers, but this 1974 release is a find. The band’s foundations lie in Vodun, the region’s voodoo ceremonials, events that went on for hours and were based around the hypnotic power of music and drums. With that in mind, and with hackneyed notions about voodoo drawn mostly from cinema, one might expect a relentlessly percussive head-fry. Instead, it’s the revolving guitar patterns, rhythm and lead interweaving, that create the quality which causes the mind to zone out. Then sax sometimes takes over. There’s singing too. And, of course, pattering drum patterns. These are songs but at the heart of their power is the relentless groove.

Sign Libra Hidden Beauty (RVNG Intl.) + El Búho Strata (Wonderwheel)

sign libraTwo albums that deal in electro-acoustic atmospherics… but maintain interest. The third album from Latvian artist Sign Libra – AKA Agata Malnikova – mingles her breathy vocalising and singing, sometimes in layers, playing off against itself, with a soundtrack that’s welcoming but also freakily offbeat. Her backing tracks are the key. They feel hugely spacious, electro-organic tones and wooden-sounding percussive clacks, synthesizer zonks and warm, fuzzy, sustained keys, all resonating towards an effect of largeness, of significance. Sometimes tracks are more “banging”, rhythm tracks to the fore, but it’s never clubby. It’s strange and occasionally wonderful head music. The sticker on the sleeve suggests it’s “an intimate voyage through feminine nature guided by the arts of subtext, musical collage and mysterious allusions”. That may well be the intent but the one word in that sentence which actually resonates while listening is “mysterious”. If there are any independent-thinking sci-fi or horror filmmakers reading who want to take their soundtrack somewhere else, to bring on the “other”, then Sign Libra is a go-to. I just spent 20 minutes I’ll never get back trying to track eldown via Google where Robin Perkins, AKA El Búho, now lives. I failed to find out. He’s a Brit but has hopped around all over the place. I suspect he’s now based somewhere in South or Central America. That is certainly where a hefty flavouring of his fifth album, and indeed, some of its predecessors derives from. Less different-sounding than Sign Libra, El Búho, instead, creates a cuddly gumbo of Latin instrumentation meeting electronic pulse on instrumentals that are tinted with melancholia. This time the cover sticker says it’s “his most personal album yet, grappling between personal joy & the tension at the deteriorating state of the world.” The joy is, apparently, the influence of the birth of a child, and the deterioration is environmental collapse. Listening without such back knowledge, however, we’re taken on a captivating stroll of gradually engaging late night head-nod, with a couple of likeable vocal pieces thrown in.

John R Miller Heat Comes Down (Rounder) + John Francis Flynn Look Over the Wall, See the Sky (River Lee/Rough Trade)

john RTwo male singer-songwriters called John with lived-in voices and thoroughly engaging ways with words and delivery. Nashville-based, West Virginia-raised John R Miller first appeared around a decade ago but his output has not been prolific. Signed to Rounder Records a couple of years ago, Heat Comes Down is his second album for them and his third in total. Country-centric Americana is his game, life-worn vocals to the fore, and rangy guitar laid back behind, a small ensemble band accompanying, including piano and fiddle, nothing overplayed, some pedal steel in there too. No, what these songs are about are the stories being told. Miller has said that the whole thing’s rooted in anxiety. If so, his approach is none daunted. Instead, it’s wry, whether he’s singing about insomnia, love, frogs or honkytonk rockin’ “Conspiracies, Cults & UFOs”. Comes with a 12” x 12” photo/info insert. Hailing from Dublin’s trad music scene John Francis Flynn has made it his john fbusiness to challenge the familiarities of his homeland’s music, bringing it kicking and screaming into 2023, assisted once again on his second album by his pal Brendan Jenkinson. There is something of PJ Harvey in his invigorating approach to disinterring the past afresh, and of Tom Waits in his willingness to embrace potentially cacophonic elements. He takes folk standards and unpicks them or resuscitates them, sometimes going the pared-back route, as on Ewan McColl’s classic “Dirty Old Town” or, more often, bracingly adding drone elements, gritty noise-synths, as especially on the song “Willie Crotty”. But he also keeps in the humour and pathos which made the songs appealing in the first place, as per his takes on “The Zoological Gardens” and “Mole in the Ground”. He’s an original. Comes in info gatefold.

X Club HTJ001 (Hide The Junk)

xWhen I used to do the techno reviews page in DJ Magazine, back in the latter half of the Nineties, I was constantly send 12” singles akin to this one. Which is to say that this contains battering hi-BPM slammers whose sole purpose is to send the dancefloor nuts. Stentorian 4/4 kick-drums hammer away while samples flit around them, in the case of one track, drawn from The Chemical Brothers’ “Block Rockin’ Beats”. No point in just dipping in, or having it on while doing the washing up. This release by London-based Aussie duo X Club refuses such options and repeatedly swings a metal baseball bat at your skull. This is the sort of techno that PROPER techno DJs play, rather than that slowed-down, polite variety which has grown in popularity this century. It’s well-constructed, heavy, relatively complex (if you can be bothered to pick apart its underpinnings), and every track is a no-prisoners thumper.

ALSO WORTHY OF MENTION

HONESTY WHERE R U (Partisan): The debut EP from Leeds outfit HONESTY refuses to be boxed in by genre. It took me a while to suss out what it even was, so anonymous is the packaging, a plain sleeve with “HONESTY WHERE R U” printed in barely legible dots. This is a good thing. Mystique and all that. The music within is a collection of seven songs that dip and dive impressively around styles. There’s 21st Century bedroom lo-fi, UK hip hop, jazz, electronica, ambience, female-fronted modern pop, and a driving new wavey number. Something about their eclectic collectivism brings to mind Massive Attack, although they don’t sound like that band. What they do sound like is a unit to watch carefully for where they go next.

Ozric Tentacles Lotus Unfolding (KScope): Anyone of a certain age, who had anything to do with early-Nineties counterculture, will likely have soft spot for Ozric Tentacles, even if they didn’t like them much at the time. If they were in concert and I was high, I enjoyed them at the time, but didn’t listen to the records (not true: I did because perma-smoking pals always had on Erpland or Pungent Effulgent). Much as Hawkwind was, eventually, Dave Brock and friends, so Ozrics is now Ed Wynne and pals. Lotus Unfolding, which comes in a die-cut sleeve, allowing a view of the title lotus on the inner sleeve, is business as usual. Which is to say hash-cake jamming over Midi synth patterns and flutey, floaty interludes. Listening, despite never having heard it before, makes me nostalgic. The production seems more airy and new agey than the Ozrics of old but, if you like the band, you’ll probably enjoy. Long may they continue!

Alabama 3 Cold War Classics Vol. 2 (Submarine Cat): The south London reprobates maintain form on their latest, mingling, as always, shuffling country grit, growled blues voices, with old school hip hop-tronic-flavoured production. With men down along the way, there’s a fatalism in there, but wasn’t there always. Full of drug references, danceable grooves, soulful choruses and a countercultural spirit, it’s business as usual and business is good. “(I Can’t) Keep Calm and Carry On” is a particular highlight but almost all of it is thoroughly palatable. Comes on transparent scarlet vinyl in photo/lyric inner sleeve.

BEX Scum (Scruff of the Neck): Guildford via London punk rocker BEX arrives with a debut album that’s pitched somewhere between lo-fi and punk and nu metal, but which is defined by her raging lyrics. Sometimes screeched and sometimes delivered with a deadpan sneer, she’s capable of catchy festival sing-alongs such as “Trust No One” but she’s just as likely to noise it up with bass-led riff-rock hammerings. With tunes such as “Misogynistic D***s” and “Don’t Date the Devil”, she also totes a fiery feminism. This is sweaty mosh-pit music and if it lives up to this live, she has a loud future. Comes in lyric inner sleeve on bright red vinyl.

VV Brown Am I British Yet? (YOY): VV Brown has always evaded easy definition. Right from her first album, 2009’s Travelling Like the Light, her music dipped and dived, taking in a multitude of styles and sometimes bemusing listeners. A polymath, she has ventured beyond music, notably into writing. Her new album, her fourth, and first in eight years, has a literary bent. It’s an explicit reflection of the black British experience, featuring a host of poetic guests such as Myrle E Roach, Liam Bailey and Veronica E Banks. The songs on board range between the raging and the reflective, from reggae to hip hop-tinted funk. A concept album, it feels a bit like attending a themed open mic session. It has a lot to say and does so articulately, reminding in places of Genesis Owusu in its bullish funkin’. Comes on gatefold double.

Poolside Blame it all on Love (Counter): Anyone remember chillwave? That was a weird sub-genre. It seemed to be a bunch of Americans reinventing long-extant notions of chill-out pop, but on newer laptop technologies. Jeffrey Paradise’s Poolside project, aptly based in Los Angeles, brought a sheeny disco to proceedings. His latest album continues in this vein. Arriving in tiger-based art/info inner sleeve, on orangey-yellow vinyl, it’s deep-dipped in Gallic electronic pop, redolent even of an extremely laidback slant on Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories. Paradise’s high-pitched voice soothes and the whole has a woozy charm, just about staying away from the dreaded yacht rock… although there’s a snifter of that too. Fans of that whole Too Slow To Disco thing may enjoy.

Metric Formentera II (Thirty Tigers): There was a point at the end of last year when I thought Canadian indie-pop perennials Metric might be a new favourite band. But it turned out I was just beguiled by their fantastic number “Doomscroller” which did, indeed, become my favourite song of 2022. The album that song came from was part one; this is part two (albeit the sleeve notes tell us that “in fact these songs were mostly written and recorded before the nine songs that are on the first album”). Metric may not be my new favourite band, but they certainly have chops when it comes to writing catchy songs that weld synth-pop to indie rock. Formentera II, which arrives on gatefold is rife with gems such as the space-rock electro-pop odyssey of “Stone Window”. Singer Emily Haines’ cutesy voice is an acquired taste but, for those able to hear beyond that, this is ear-pleasing, credibly created pop.

Crystal Fighters Light+ (Play It Again Sam): Crystal Fighters are a band who’ve never shied away from ideas that push beyond the usual indie tropes. Their longterm interest in Basque culture, together with the way they integrate ideas borrowed from electronic dance music, have made their live appearances euphoric affairs. Their latest album comes in an inner sleeve featuring a quotation from the (severely compromised) Kundalini yoga guru Yogi Bhajan, “Travel light, Live Light, Spread the light, Be the light”, and the music is suffused with a cosmic joy, as are the lyrics. This sometimes comes over with a hazed-out bliss akin to evangelical uplift – imagine Django Django if they became born again Christians – but, mostly, the ebullient song-dance stew is palatable. Comes on milkily transparent vinyl.

Luzmila Carpio Inti Watan El Retorno del Sol (ZZK): Luzmila Carpio is huge news in her native Bolivia, a singer who’s become an icon of the Andes, releasing a plethora of music over many decades. In 2015 she teamed up with ZZK Records for an album called Luzmila Carpio meets ZZK, wherein her musical style was matched with electronic producers. Inti Watan El Retorno del Sol continues this, but the collaboration is with a single producer, Argentina’s Leonardo Martinelli. The overall theme of the album is environmental and Carpio’s songs are alternately cheery and impassioned, playing off against a mixture of harmoniums, Bolivian charango guitars, et al, and studio-enhanced beats and slivers of synthesiser tones. It works a well, a balanced collection that renders her work interesting outside pure global roots listening. Comes on buttery-coloured vinyl in lyric gatefold.

Various Future Bubblers 7.0 (Brownswood): The latest collection from Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label which hosts sounds from emerging artists. Putting their money where their mouth is, “all profits from this release will be re-invested into Future Bubblers Academy to help continue our quest to uplift and encourage ‘outside-the-box’ brave young music makers across the country”. Peterson’s taste on his Brownswood collections tend towards the mellow and soulful and so it proves on 7.0, from the mellow jazz-rap of Landel’s “2 Many” to the sprawling ambient orchestrations of Marysia Osu’s “Stryder”. My favourites of the eight tracks are the delicious film soundtracky song “The Way” by Romy Nova and the short, intriguing, dense “Blomster” by Ney Liqa. Comes in photo/info inner sleeve.

Les Mamans du Congo & RROBIN Ya Mizolé (Jarring Effects) + Diepkloof United Voice Harmonizing Soweto: Golden City Gospel & Kasi Soul from New South Africa (Ostinato): A couple of tasty albums of substance from Africa. The second album created by Congolese singer-teacher-restaurateur Gladys Samba’s musical collective with French producer Robin Bastide continues their mission into combining femme-centric African musical traditions with more immediately recognisable western sounds. Thus tunes such as trap-centric beat-heavy “Consolation”, which have a familiar dancefloor heft, sit alongside the likes of “Mpemba”, a sweetly-sung, longing piece whose harmonic vocals are woven into a soundbed of chilled synthesizer. The whole is surprisingly poppy. Comes on colourful die-cut inner sleeve on transparent vinyl lightly dusted with orange. Deipkloof is a region of Soweto and the debut album from Diepkloof United Voice shows off a set that combines gospel and barber shop stylings, braced with finger-clicks, beatboxing and very basic percussive backing. The region the nine-strong group comes from is very rundown and the album was recorded in an abandoned elementary school classroom. These are the facts and, like original American soul from the late Fifties, this deprivation somehow filters into the passion and intensity of the music, which is executed with precision. The songs come over almost as African madrigals but with an earthy punch which belies that suggestion, and a range of songs that veer between the spiritually intense and the more boisterous. Comes on photo-info gatefold that gives all the background.

Flaer Preludes (ODDA) + Kirk Barley Marionette (ODDA): Two from ODDA Records, the label overseen by DJ Thea HD (also A&R at The Leaf Label), which focuses “on design, landscape and unearthing new sounds”. Leicester artist Realf Heygate records as Flaer and their debut album contains a set of pastoral instrumentals, with enough hiss, creaks, bird sound and background noise to make them sound as if they were recorded in a field. Consisting of piano, acoustic guitar and cello, they are mediative slivers that waft by pleasantly. The vinyl is limited to 500 and each comes with a signed print by Flaer. Of more interest to these ears is Marionette by Kirk Barley (who has recorded in the past as Bambooman for Matthew Herbert’s Accidental label). These pieces are a more dynamic collection of the organic and the electronic. A thunderstorm plays out against xylophonic plinking and organ motifs, squiggles of chinkle fight it out with crackle, fuzz, and rumbling, and more in this vein. It’s akin to the soundtrack of an otherworldly animation.

AND WHILE WE’RE HERE

  • The only 7” single this month is “Don’t Forget About Love” from 1980s soulstress Dee C Lee on Acid Jazz, her first material in 30-or-so years. It’s a bubbly number, pleasingly redolent of Our Favourite Shop-era Style Council, all genial horns and easy listening bossa nova. Good to have her back. Look forward to the album.
  • Multi-instrumentalist virtuoso Miguel Atwood-Ferguson has a background in classical music and earns his daily bread composing for TV and as an LA studio arranger and player. He’s always applied his training to jazz and hip hop, most famously orchestrating the music of J Dilla. His latest is a sprawling four record set in gatefold on Brainfeeder called Les Jardins Mystiques Vol.1. It’s way too indulgent and noodly for me but some may find its twinkly downtempo background vibe suited to their mood.
  • The second album from London singer-songwriter Blanco White is called Tarifa and appears to be on his eponymous label. He doesn’t go down the obvious acoustic guitar route – although the guitar is in there – but appears to build his songs in the studio, often with a sunny electronic enhancement built around them. It’s not in any way country but it reminds me somehow of Josh Ritter, the way the songs have been cleverly enhanced by surrounding production, leading sometimes to an almost ethereal feel. Comes with 12” x 12” lyric sheet
  • The National’s tenth album, Laugh Track on 4AD, is their second of the year, arriving as a surprise in September and now appearing on plastic. The band, especially since Aaron Dressner’s involvement with Taylor Swift’s music, have been elevated well beyond their initial indie milieu. The album contains the single “Weird Goodbyes”, featuring Bon Iver, which actually preceded their last album, First Two Pages of Frankenstein (which shares much of the same cover image). The songs are richly emotive without being forced or whiny, a tricky game to play and one they succeed at. They’ve never quite hauled me in but this thoughtful album, which also features Phoebe Bridgers on the title track, is well-produced, quietly sturdy, and feels as if it derives from an authentic place. Comes in gatefold.
  • The vinyl for New York outfit The Vacant Lots’ fourth album, Interiors, is a suitably gothic splatter of transparent deep red and black. On Fuzz Club Records in a limited edition of 500 on gatefold in photo/art/lyric inner sleeve, Interiors reminds of long lost Some Bizarre act B-Movie. The duo major in sturdily moody and tuneful synth-pop over which singer Jared Artaud’s low voice whispers and despondently dramatizes like the Eighties had never ended. For fans of this niche, they do what they do convincingly.
  • When LA post-punkers Savage Republic split, guitarist Bruce Licher, a lynchpin of the band’s relatively complex sound, went on to release the wholly instrumental 1995 album Incident at Cima under the name Scenic, which now reappears on Licher’s own Los Angeles label Independent Project. The album was created as a felt response to the Mojave Desert and has a dusty spaghetti western twang to it, alongside a swirling, psychedelic, tribalist post-rock feel. It’s a unique project, well-realised. Now it just needs a feature film to soundtrack. Comes on clear vinyl with a postcard and poster.
  • When listening to the music, the cover art of New York duo The Still Brothers’ new The Still Brothers EP on Lewis Records doesn’t quite seem to fit. On it, the duo are photographed in black’n’white, two blokes sitting at a table, yet the album is entirely dominated by sweet female vocals. Whatever, arriving in info inner sleeve, their downtempo soul-pop, breathy, lush, and well-pressed to vinyl, is sumptuously relaxed. Singers Marina B and Kim Foxen give the easy-going music its human face and brightness. As does the vinyl, which is strikingly quartered into back and white,
  • London-based Cornish four-piece The Velvet Hands release their second album, Sucker Punch, via Krautpop! Records. It’s deep-dipped in the 1970s, drawing from that space where New York’s glam-tinted proto-punk blended with Britain’s snarlier version. There’s a drop or two of The Strokes in there too. The songs are fired out with vim. Probably good live. Comes in a tabloid art inner sleeve (“PUNK DANCE PARTY”, it says!) on vinyl that looks like a warped black flower lying on blood.
  • Over in Sweden Joanna Reinikainen – AKA Rein – continues her mission into blending 1980s EBM of the Front 242 variety with something poppier on her second album God is a Woman on her own Rein label. Akin to Violator-era Depeche Mode fronted by Shirley Manson, it’s a set that punches out of the speakers, impassioned, boasting chunky attack. Created with French Boynoize Records producer Djedjotronic, it’s both hard-dancey and sternly gothic.
  • For the last decade the (now LA-based) Brit DJ-producer Seb Wildblood has been trying on a variety of clubland hats and has released a plethora of albums and other material, dipping into everything from jazz to the lighter end of techno. His latest, on double is Separation Anxiety on his own All My Thoughts label. It flits around deep house and swish, textured ambience, albeit also containing the odd vocal banger such as “Give It Back” featuring Joel Wästberg (AKJA sir Was – small “s” intentional). Spiritual ambience don Laraaji also appears on a couple of tracks. On double it’s proficient rather than elevational.
  • LA’s Independent Project Records pride themselves on presentation. Their vinyl usually arrives in a cardboard envelope sleeve of their own devising. Such is the case with their reissue of Mercury Blues, the second album by proto-Grant Lee Buffalo outfit Shiva Burlesque, which arrive in a double set, well-cut to vinyl, with a 12” x 24” insert featuring writing by Rolling Stone’s David Fricke. More excitingly, the second disc contains ten demos and unreleased songs, none of which have been on vinyl before. Shiva Burlseque’s sound is a droney take on the Paisely Underground of the West Coast mid-Eighties, occasionally a whiff of The Doors in its architecture and vocals, but also dipped into the jangly goth of those times.
  • Dirt Buyer began around five years ago as a duo at Boston’s Berklee College but is now reduced, for their second album, II, to a single member, Joe Sutkowski. From Bayonet Records, on richly dark red vinyl, the colour of non-arterial blood, albeit transparent, it comes with a 10” x 10” lyric sheet. Dirt Buyer have been termed noise-pop but I’m not hearing that (on either of their albums). They’re closer to the alt-rock palette. The lyrics are opaque, making reference to being robbed and opiates, but the overall tone is an exposition of depressive pissed-off-ness.
  • Sam Gendel is a Los Angeles musical renaissance man, a saxophonist and explorer, always up for trying a multiplicity of different styles. Marcella Cytrynowicz is the 13-year-old sister of his partner. Together they gave us the lovely Live a Little album at the start of this year, a set of inventively constructed otherworldly strange-pop. They now return with Audiobook, which heads in a different direction, with quirky little sound sketches, semi-ambient instrumentals, all knockings, slivers of xylophonic tunes, tones, bibbling about together sweetly. It’s an enjoyably oddball outing, if not as immediately engaging as their debut. Comes with colourful outer and inner sleeve art by Cytrynowicz
  • Musicians from all over the world have long been drawn to the musical melting pot and wide open spaces of the USA, not least The Beatles and the Stones. Norwegian guitarist Trond Kallevåg has now created his own instrumental quilt of sounds in tribute. Amerikabåten, meaning “the American boat”, arrives on Oslo’s always intriguing HUBRO label, and places Kallevåg’s guitar, steel and otherwise, at the heart of what sounds like the soundtrack to an imaginary film, somewhere between David Lynch, Paris Texas and a PBS documentary about rural roots music. It’s an unforced and enjoyable travelogue.
  • London-based sonic explorer Andy Baxter, who goes by Robohands, is an example of a creative for whom electronic dance music was a stepping-off point, may years ago, to all kinds of musical adventures. Certainly his latest album, his fifth, has nothing to do with dance music at all. Entitled Palms on Bastard Jazz Records, it’s a semi-ambient, sometimes psychedelic reimagining of Sixties and Seventies tropical exotica, filtered through the prism of technological meltdown. Happily, the sunshine sparkle of the music that inspired it wins the day.
  • Liverpool’s Violette Records are a hub of local happenings, notably their La Violette Società events, which is where the trio Beatowls first performed live. Their debut album, Marma, now appears on the label. Performance artist Darcie Chasen fronts the band, her voice both powerful and mournful, backed by Carl Cook and Tom Roberts, who produce a sturdy downtempo electronic soundbed. Imagine a more synth-pop Portishead and you’d be halfway there.
  • Craterellus Tubaeformis sounds like the kind of album title Ozric Tentacles or Gong might have dreamed up, but the music inside refutes this. London musician Will Dorey’s Skinshape project is relentlessly prolific and his latest on Lewis Records, his eighth album in nine years, maintains the standard of cheerfully groovy productions. It feels as if Dory and his compadres are having fun, whether going for a Hawaiian beachside jolly or letting rip with a dubbed-out pop song. It’s the kind of thing you’d be happy to come across in a far-flung rush-matted marquee at Glastonbury if you fancied sitting down and skinning up. Comes with a 12” x 12” photo/lyric booklet.
  • The Collage collaborative album from alt-jazz maverick band Erlend Apneseth Trio and avant-garde composer Maja S. K. Ratkje offers up wilful Norwegian experimentalism at its most unapologetic. On HUBRO Records it feels as if rustic found sounds and samples, alongside occasional words and phrases, have been stirred into scratchy, string-led tonal music, with occasional bursts of loud abject dissonance. It is defiantly NOT EASY and revels in its outsider music status.
  • Cosmic Link are a soul duo from Bristol and their eponymous debut album appears on High Noon Music. Combining the talents of producer Ben Dubuisson with US vocalist-lyricist Jay Myztroh, AKA musical all-rounder Jeremy McKinnies, it’s too jazzually tasteful for my palate. Those who enjoy forays into the smartly-dressed head-nod area where soul, downtempo hip hop and jazz blend smoothly may enjoy.
  • Brighton band Wax Machine are led by Brazilian-English singer Lau Ro who brings the music of his ancestry to some of his work, as on the group’s third album The Sky Unfurls, The Dance Goes On on Batov Records. The trio create a warm post-rock jazz-psyche that wanders into prog territory but is rarely actually rock. There are flighty Seventies-ish acoustic songs but splashed with other colours, and the album is as likely to take off into head music explorations. Not the usual.
  • The debut album from New York puppeteer-musician Tristan Allen is called Tin Iso and the Dawn and is on RVNG Intl. Records. It consists of four “acts” that inhabit a territory somewhere between modern classical, experiments in global roots music from the far east, and art installation soundtrack. It is a contemplative piece that takes its time. Occasionally it recalls the kind of thing one might hear in a new age shop but then evades such categorisation by revealing a denser kind of complexity.
  • Sing Leaf occupies similar but different terrain to the above. It’s the name under which Canadian artist David Como records. His music tends towards soundscaping and such is the case with his latest album Remote Motel on Tin Angel Records. There are moments redolent of Vangelis but, overall, it’s a far more tone-ambient experience, using humming frequencies and low level white noise to create a slightly unsettling mood. Comes in art/info inner sleeve.

FINALLY, THREE THAT HAVE ALREADY BEEN REVIEWED ON THEARTSDESK BUT WHICH ARE WORTH OWNING ON PLASTIC

The Chemical Brothers For That Beautiful Feeling (EMI): I gave 5/5 to the Chems’ latest whopper here https://theartsdesk.com/new-music/album-chemical-brothers-beautiful-feeling . A smashing enlivener it is! And comes on double with a cover art-related poster.

Madness Theatre of the Absurd present C’est La Vie (BMG): And, despite usually being rather stingy with the top score, I gave this smasher 5/5 too, right here https://theartsdesk.com/new-music/album-madness-theatre-absurd-presents-cest-la-vie . It comes on a double in lyric inner sleeve. Their best in years.

TONN3RR3 x BIKAY3 It’s a Bomb (Born Bad): Mark Kidel, a man with a strong track record of recognising innovation and interest in the world of global roots sounds recommends this exercise in Afro-electronica here https://theartsdesk.com/new-music/album-tonn3rr3-x-bikay3-its-bomb.

 

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