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The best new albums this week

Our writers’ selection of top albums from the past seven days

ALBUM OF THE WEEK

IDLES – Crawler (Deluxe Edition) (half speed remastered) (Partisan)

It feels like IDLES have been with us for years beyond their tenure. The Bristol post-punks have carved a visceral yet delicate niche between their myriad influences, one that welcomes fans of all ages, colours and creeds.

2017’s cult debut, ‘Brutalism’, accosted the UK alternative scene with a no-wave, noise-rock agenda, dismantling modern rock and punk with gravelly vocals, shotgun lyricism, and perplexing sonic soundscapes indebted to a diverse array of artists.

Capitalising on the momentum, ‘Joy As An Act Of Resistance’ dropped a little over a year later, cementing the band as genre mainstays. Frontman Joe Talbot has captivated and infuriated in equal measure with his topical, observational analyses, often leaving very little up to interpretation. The direct, scathing approach has connected with countless fans, dismayed at the austerity, xenophobia, and genuine civil unrest that encompasses our modern times.

If these seem like tried and true “punk” points of discussion, it’s because they are, and they’ve never been more readily relevant. When their third full-length effort, ‘Ultra Mono’, dropped at the back end of 2020, a year most will never look back on fondly, it put a firm stance on the IDLES moniker, one that essentially stated – “Help or get out of the way.”

Driving home a more succinct and direct message than ever before, some with a more fragile political disposition found the themes of inclusivity, anti-fascism, and positive reinforcement to be too “on the nose”, too “one-sided”, and best of all, too “left-leaning”.

It seems odd that a band could win over so many fans, then appear to alienate a percentage through nothing more than espousing their known values and opinions with just a dash more vitriol and transparency. In fact, to consider a punk project to be too left leaning is to almost misunderstand the entire origin of the genre. If more right-wing punk is your thing, just watch American History X or Green Room for some band recommendations.

Regardless of the somewhat mixed reaction to the themes and lyrical discourse surrounding ‘Ultra Mono’, the group utterly succeeded in separating the wheat from the chaff as it were, wearing their hearts on worn sleeves as if to challenge those indifferent to the plights of many, or sympathetic to the smaller percentile.

It was a bold showing of colours, that Talbot even admitted was designed in such a way to purposefully be sloganeering, a nigh on form of parody maximalising every nuance of their makeup. In other words, crafted to enrage those already firmly rooted in the anti-IDLES camp.

Now with the dust having barely settled and debates still ongoing regarding their last effort, IDLES are back barely one year removed with ‘Crawler’, the fourth full-length and arguably most dynamic project of their career thus far.

Elaborating on the prevalent themes Talbot says, “We want people who’ve gone through trauma, heartbreak, and loss to feel like they’re not alone, and also how it is possible to reclaim joy from those experiences.”

From the soul-punk balladry of ‘The Beachland Ballroom’ to the harsh noise-rock cluster of ‘Car Crash’, the first two singles offer up a rough playing field of audible aesthetics and serve as some of the finest examples of lyrical and musical syncopation the group have conjured up yet.

Thundering sludge rumbles with bleeding intensity throughout ‘The Wheel’, while the minimal slow burn of ‘When The Lights Come On’ paints a sticky portrait of nightlife excess and retroactive self-awareness.

Whether a reactionary path or artistic endeavour, the subject matter here is shrouded in just a thimble full of extra mystery, with Talbot embodying characters and narratives in more chameleon fashion in order to bring these tales of strife, addiction, and facepalm regret to cinematic life.

Expansion and challenge are the driving forces of ‘Crawler’, with the band not so much as abandoning any previously laid work, but rather dismantling and repurposing their aggro-nuance to serve an entirely new type of experience. The glitchy, dissonant ambient noise of ‘Progress’ recalls the likes of Swans if they were British, pissed and shouting across the bar of your local.

‘The New Sensation’ bridges their unhinged punk antics with droney abandon, while the tooth and claw rawness of ‘Crawl!’ and ‘Meds’ hark back to Bristol-bound shed-rattling early days.

In a year that’s seen plenty of artists retreat to the writing process to quell the stagnation of limited touring, IDLES have managed to subvert, eclipse and traverse beyond the success and controversy of their previous effort in a little over twelve months.

‘Crawler’ is the sound of life barrelling on with zero consideration, and the acceptance that comes with catching hold rather than feeling left behind. It’s ugly, tough, endearing and inviting, but universal. When Talbot sincerely/sarcastically ponders – “How can I feel myself when I can’t even feel my face?” on ‘Stockholm Syndrome’, there’s a simultaneous sense of sadness and observational humour due to most relating to the sentiment yet questioning why, all the same. It’s textbook IDLES, ripping up their own rules.

ZB

Various — At the Movies (Late Night Tales)

There are film theme tune compilations for miles and miles, whichever way you’re looking, whatever shop you’re in, whatever online retailer you might be using (we recommend Juno, but alternative providers are available). There are also plenty of Late Night Tales releases to go at, and we’re putting a not-so-outside bet on the fact nobody reading this has heard them all. Yet. Nevertheless, amid the ocean of movie-themed albums, and up against well over a decade of exceptional curation, At the Movies stands out in both categories.

Quite who should be credited with putting it together is a mystery, but we’re more than appreciative. This is a vast, sprawling collection of music that has enough time and space to wander off in some very interesting directions. ‘Rhapsody In Blue’ may not be the most educational, never-encountered-before, digger’s delight of an introduction, then. And Sarabande has definitely already made an impact on your mind such is its ability to invoke scenes depicting the aftermath of disaster, death, war, and other horrors. But the two tracks are still exceptional pieces of music — respectively early jazz and mournful classical — and open the scoring here in fine style.

As we move through the remaining 23 offerings the scope expands dramatically. From Giorgio Moroder’s rolling electro synth pop classic ‘Chase’, to the chilling, sparse pianos of John Carpenter & Mark Ayres’ ‘Halloween’, the space-age symphonies of ‘Tears In Rain’ by Vangelis, to Hotei’s broken beat and brass head-nodder ‘Battle Without Honour Or Humanity’, it’s an album that successfully presents the vast gamut of emotions, ideas, stories, characters, locations, and genres which make up film itself. Quite the achievement, spanning disco, ambient, orchestral, synthesised, introverted, extroverted, man, woman, machine, Earth, space and all manner of places and people in between.

MH

WH Lung – Varities (Melodic)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly where everything on Vanities falls into place. The opening bars and lines on ‘Calm Down’, first track here, certainly feel like each element is in the spot it should be. But then that fine example of synth-pop atmosphere build pales in comparison with some of the moments that come further down the line. Certainly, for the Manchester-based band themselves you can imagine the eureka moment was when they took influences clearly picked up in and around the city’s club scene and distilled this with the sound they had already established during formative days over the Yorkshire border in Leeds.

For us, it’s hard to top the appropriately-titled ‘Showstopper’. The definition of what they call chug in dance music, rendered through more of an indie or synth-rock lens it loses none of the floor-filling power, but brings so much more to the fore, too. Elements of new wave, post punk, indietronica, and abundant other hybrid genres melding together to deliver something that could have been made four days ago or 40 years ago, and could still never sound old.

There are, of course, other major high points. In fact, the following number, ‘Figure With Flowers’, is a case in point. Distanced, high-pitched wailed harmonies combine with the vocal delivery of New Romanticism in a whispered mood, and a low end packing heavy kick-snare beat and powerful waves of bass, this is closing credit levels of retro-tinged emotion. And it’s impossible to picture anyone really wanting the film to end. Admittedly, that description could apply to a few things here — Vanities is a record that knows what it is and wants to be. But when the formula is this good, we’re happy to dive in for the long-haul.

MH

Pamela Z – Echolocation (Freedom To Spend)

It’s 1988, and San Francisco is still reeling from the shocking impact of punk. Out of this primordial mulch comes Pamela Z. Having relocated to the city four years earlier, she’s now in the thick of the local art rock scene, and has just bought her first digital delay pedal, an Ibanez-DM1000.

Though an experienced live performer working with live looping and dubbing using analog tape, the DM1000 was predictive of Z’s future as a digital art-punk vocal tinkerer. Nowadays, she uses her MacBook Pro and the software Max-MSP to add synthetic elements to her voice in real time. She’s found what she was looking for all along, “sounds yet unfelt”. 

But it’s still important to reissue albums like Z’s first tape, ‘Echolocation’. This album’s relentless art experiments really do sound like a fledgling musician using her own brand of sonar, or an insectoid sixth sense, to unearth new, romantic realms of sound. Echoes of US art, post-punk and no-wave permeate this album; its minimal instrumentation and odd, synthy vocal repetitions on tracks like ‘Badagada’ and ‘In The Other World’ sound like lost Liquid Sky soundtrack cuts.

But in contrast to her newer, jankier work are several pop songs with full band backings, showing off Z’s songwriting ability. ‘Two Black Rubber Raincoats’, an ode to doppelgangers, compares “two pictures of the same scene”, as though she’s pondering the real difference between analog and digital. ‘I Know’, all the same, sounds like a romantic, clockwork nightmare: glitzy glam production embeds seemingly every vocal register, from low EVP murmurs to banshee’s wails. 

Despite the antsy, difficult minimalism she channels – breaking away from her career start covering known names like Joni Mitchell, the Roches and Edgar Varèse – we can still hear Z’s musical foundations here. Refreshingly, this album doesn’t seem to be about anything in particular. It’s more an exploration of the future possibility, a head-nod to what’s yet to come.

JIJ

Vulture Lord – Desecration Rite (Odium)

Reuniting after nearly two decades, black metal purist supergroup Vulture Lord have returned with their second full-length, ‘Desecration Rite’.

If the title isn’t enough of a hint, this is old school, balls to the wall, anti-Christian, nihilistic, thrash-punk leaning Norwegian black metal of the most direct variety.

That isn’t to take away from the artistry on display, the production is a pristine example of the delicate balancing act between highlighting the barrage of blast beats and buzzsaw tremolo riffage, while never glossing up or over the sonics, leaving the rawness and malevolent energy to shine through on its own merit.

With titles like ‘Stillborn Messiah’, ‘Burning The Kingdom Of God’ and ‘Perverting The Bible’, it’s pretty clear that this ain’t your daddy’s black metal (or maybe it is, actually?), but one perplexing factor, is the familiarity of structure that hides in plain sight.

https://www.juno.co.uk/player-embed/SF850391-01-01-01.mp3/?pl=false&pn=false&ed=21-11-12

While lyrics bolster hateful critiques on organised religion and the hypocrisy of the modern world with informed, verbose, analytical evaluation, their malodorous delivery is simultaneously clear and concise, far from the alienating, impenetrable vocals found on a lot of BM projects.

The band aren’t afraid of repetition either, with refrains and, dare we consider them “choruses”, providing anchors throughout the cascading maelstrom of unbridled, blackened fury.

Consisting of members of genre stalwarts such as Urgehal, Carpathian Forest, Beastcraft and Endezzma, it’s safe to say that after eighteen years of inactivity, Vulture Lord have returned with one of the purest, most unadulterated classic black metal releases of the 21st century.

Get your cape and your corpse paint, it’s time to go traversing the night-time forests and howl at the moon, with ‘Desecration Rite’ as your soundtrack. 

ZB

Lotic Water (Houndstooth)

If the press release is to be believed, this album represents J’Kerian Morgan’s “arrival as an artist”. The record that she has always wanted to make. That might surprise fans of the excellent 2018 long form debut, Power, which was packed with a beguiling atmosphere, somewhere between mysticism and mechanics, and certainly completely unique in personality. But hit play on ‘Wet’, opener to this follow up LP, and you can hear what the artist might be getting at.

In many ways, the difficult second is a more natural feeling thing. Certainly the sparseness allows more human elements to take centerstage, not least Morgan’s exceptional vocal range, perhaps best described as somewhere between the ethereal plane and opera house. Of course there are plenty of electronic elements at work here, arguably most audibly on ‘Always You’, with its beat-machine vocal stabs and layers of sound. Yet the collection overall is likely to leave you remembering its more organic parts. Whether that’s the spoken word-esque lyrics of ‘Changes’ or the heavenly harps on ‘Apart’. A strange, subtly theatrical, deceptively playful example of fantastical experimentation. Returning to the original point: wherever the artist is arriving from, we’re glad she came. 

MH

Kaonashi – Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year (Equal Vision)

Philadelphia self-proclaimed “emo mathcore” outfit, Kaonashi, have been garnering praise over the last few years due to their amalgamation of styles, each approached with sincerity and expert composition.

2019’s debut EP, ‘Why Did You Do It?’, laid the narrative and sonic ground for a continuously unfolding character driven story of teen angst, anxiety and depression, complimented in no small part by the group’s chaotic, dizzyingly technical approach to post-hardcore.

‘Dear Lemon House, You Ruined Me: Senior Year’, capitalises on every micro-dot of pre-established momentum, with visceral, ugly disjointed hardcore smashing against emotive, cascading moments of ethereal delicacy. Envision the mathematical insanity of Dillinger Escape Plan enveloped in the crooning warmth of Deftones.

It’s a natural continuation of the parameter dissolving approach to modern punk that bands like Letlive. made so popular a decade prior.

As you descend the rabbit hole of the challenging subject matter explored on the disconcerting cuts such as ‘Fuck Temple University’ or the helpless ‘Market Street (Chardonnay, Diamonds, & Me)’, vocalist Peter Rono’s sentiments become clear – “We want this record to make people anxious, we want them to feel a sense of urgency. If they catch themselves thinking that they could do something to change the story of the album, then maybe — just maybe — they will take steps to make a difference in the world around them.”

Proving quite an insightful, if not alienating manner in which to invoke an honest reaction in the listener, there’s an earnest desire to inspire change.

While perhaps far too much for the average listener, if one can unpack the sheer fractured structure and adjust to Rono’s howling, frightening shrieks, by the time acoustic ballad, ‘The Underdog II: Fight On The 40 Yard Line, What’s That In Kilometers?’, creeps up towards the albums backend, there’s a palpable sense of exposure and healing buried beneath the blistering yet serene cacophony.

ZB

300

Hoavi – Inavriant (Peak Oil) / Hoavi – Music For Six Rooms (Balmat)

Emerging out of the St. Petersburg underground with a modest string of releases to his name, Hoavi lands with a splash on two different labels in the same week. That might well be a simple case of riding the chaotic waves of pressing plant pile-ups, but given these two albums also showcase distinct sides of the Russian producer’s identity, it’s a fine opportunity to get more familiar with an intriguing artist. When someone has more albums than singles to their name, you can fairly assume they’re not as concerned about the dancefloor, no matter how many beats they fire off. Invariant certainly has its fair share of drums – threads of breaks, stuttering drum machine impressions, digital pulses in staccato formations – but these are rarely deployed with any kind of physical response in mind.

Invariant plays out like a quintessential electronica album, with enough fulsome production to satisfy a techno head wanting to kick back without falling asleep. In line with Peak Oil’s general interest in needlepoint digital detail, there’s a definite ‘in the box’ quality to Invariant which favours extravagant engineering and a cavalier attitude towards genre boundaries. ‘Dver’ quivers through acidic braindance, tentative footwork and snatched jungle, but it’s also laden with heavy-hearted synth tones which render the track none of those things in particular. The art then lies in stitching these contrasting elements together, and Hoavi wields every sound within reach as though it were a malleable putty, moulding them into wholly natural-sounding forms without losing their individual textures.

There’s plenty of space for ambience within Invariant, although it tends to be part of a broader whole, but by way of contrast Music For Six Rooms leans towards more consistently beatless soundscapes. Appearing as the second release on Spanish label Lapsus (after the excellent first drop from Luke Sanger),  the influence of label curation feels prominent here in picking a path through Hoavi’s work. In some ways, not having the interference of percussion allows an opportunity for reflecting on some of the tonal and textural qualities in his work – the chrome-plated dub techno chords blowing through ‘Cosworth’, the ping-pong chords with a new wave twang skipping across the stereo field on ‘Arpdx’. These less cluttered productions are no less fulsome and vibrant – Hoavi makes use of every inch of the frequency spectrum, no matter how few elements he deploys. Even in this more ‘ambient’ state, he’s really not that ‘ambient’.

Like many of his peers in the Russian underground (for example Kuzma Palkin, Flaty or Vlad Dobrovolski), Hoavi hints across these two albums at a prolific spirit that remains open to musical pathways, exploring on instinct while retaining a fundamental identity. It might have to do with a musical heritage not so smothered by past genres like you might find in Europe, but Hoavi once again demonstrates how much incredible music is coming out of Russia these days.

OW

This week’s reviewers: Zach Buggy, Oli Warwick, Jude Iago James,