Review: It's not hard to understand why people so often ignore album release blurb. Sales-y, hyperbolic, and on more than the odd occasion rather poorly written, it's hardly required reading in order to get the most out of the record. That is unless it's Big Thief's 'Two Hands', a collection of music that genuinely makes more sense when you know the back story. For one thing this long form offering is arriving just months after its predecessor, which is always either the sign of a band that don't need big ideas to facilitate rapid-fire output, or a band that have so many big ideas they literally can't stop the momentum. This is a case of the latter. Timescale aside, "Two Hands" genuinely feels as though it was born in the Badlands, epic songs that invoke endless vistas across barren settings in a way that makes you feel as small as you actually are in a global context. Like cosying up in a log cabin away from the chilly endless dark of a desert night.
Review: There's plenty of anticipation around Big Thief's third record U.F.O.F., and we can say with confidence that it delivers on every front. A solid expansion of their last record, Capacity, U.F.O.F. for the most part goes deeper into diverse sonic territories that's emotionally raw and rich, calling to mind Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell and various other accomplished singer songwriters especially in songs like "Contact" and "Cattails". Elsewhere, "Strange" and "Orange" provide a backing that seems more upbeat on the surface, yet the varied vocal technique of Adrianne Lenker, ranging from a whisper to a vulnerable bellow keeps us firmly captivated. The album really shines through when it reaches for slightly louder soundscapes, best heard on "Terminal Paradise" and "Jenni" (with the latter reminding us of "Washer" by Slint). All in all, U.F.O.F. will be a record that entrances you with its subtle yet haunting charm.
Review: Where were you seven years ago? School? High school? College? First job? Last job? Whatever the answer it's certainly not the same place as Efterklang were, and still are. The Danish trio have never been of this world, yet give us so many opportunities to consider the emotion and passion this world offers. The first album to be fully written in their native tongue accentuates those qualities - dreamy soundscapes, different and decidedly bewitching intonation. It's an epic journey, with the likes of "Uden Ansigt" among the most epic, like Bon Iver's vocals slow dancing with the soaring instrumentation of Sigur Ros. "Havet Lofter Sig" ups the beauty, fittingly on the shortest track - gentle pianos, unnaturally pitched backing voices and baritone lead creating real yearning, proving nothing great lasts forever. Or longer than a couple of minutes. Cutting to the chase, it's a mesmerising work you're sure to have on repeat.
Review: Meghan Remy's unique skewed and maverick vision has already been chronicled on four albums to date, yet this debut for 4AD marks the point at which she genuinely comes into her own, delivering a collection of endlessly inventive baroque pop gems that are as spiky and strange as they are sweet and addictive. Flirting deliriously with genre and style throughout, 'Half Free' is as rough around the edges as it is brimming with freewheeling creativity and inspirational glee. Yet at its centre throughout is the muse of Remy herself, almost indecently potent in most any style she turns her attention to.
Review: Brandon Cox's post-millennial dreampop troubadours have always rendered themselves peerless in the sphere of effects-pedal-laden euphoria, yet 'Fading Frontier' marks unchartered territory for the band, not to mention possibly their most accessible record to date. Arriving in the wake of some serious personal strife for Cox himself, this collection of sweetly melodious yet otherworldly-hued songs may be the most stripped-back and straightforwardly poppy that he's created, yet his heavy-lidded charm and ear for the ethereal remain unabated, imbuing verses with seductive texture and choruses with radiant hue. Confident and coherent, it's a new horizon for a visionary artist.
Review: It may be speculative to wonder what difference moving to LA from Vienna may have made to London-born electro-soul crooner Christopher Taylor, but it's perhaps resulted in a more upbeat and upfront sound, one that for all its sample and beat-driven experimentation wastes little time in consigning talk of 'blubstep' and comparisons to James Blake firmly to history. Yet for all this album's flirtations with mainstream R&B, it still maintains strength in depth, with both Taylor's mellifluous voice and politically-inspired lyrics rendering it a fine blend of hooks and heart.
Review: It may be open to debate how ironic that title is - the New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Harding insists that it's not. But the fact that this record isn't overburdened by elated atmospherics takes nothing away from a quietly powerful, reflective and charismatic piece of work. PJ Harvey comparisons (particularly in relation to 'White Chalk') are bound to present themselves, especially with longtime Peej collaborator John Parish on board, but 'Party' is a dark gem with a lustre all its own. not to mention brio, humour and subtlety to spare.
Review: Although an outstanding pop artist, Hannah Rodger's music as Pixx sits well and truly in the alt-pop realm. Since surfacing in 2015 with Fall In - that was later followed up by her 2017 debut album Age Of Anxiety - she's continues her relationship with 4AD once more thanks to Small Mercies. This second LP sees the English artist collide future electronic pop and R&B genres with the grungy guitars and synth rock styles of yesteryear. And for this record, Pixx assumes a different persona than before, her label says, to introspectively examine the damage done by religion, gender-based power hierarchies and stereotypes. Our picks, "Disgrace" and the oh-so-grungey "Mary Magdalene".
Review: Western Australian haircuts Methyl Ethel bring their surrealist wares back to London's 4AD for a second time, following up the Everything Is Forgotten LP of 2017. Spearheaded by Jake Webb and his somewhat androgynous vocal take, a most alluring factor of the band's music, the group continue to deliver a musical blend of avant synth and indie pop with swathes of emotion we will compare to Bat For Lashes, Hot Chip and even in some cases, Tool. Achieving huge success down under, and once slated as just another "psychedelic rock band from Perth" by the smirking editorials of the big smoke, this homespun album sees Webb's avant take on pop at the edge, or ahead of the curve, of mainstream listening; See the drama of "Post-Blue", the summery haze of "Real Tight" and the concoction of sounds to make Arcade Fire blush in "All The Elements".