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: It's taken a while, but finally Thom Yorke's impressive third solo album, "ANIMA", is available on wax (and in a fetching shade of orange, too). A future classic that continues the legacy he started with XL Recordings back in 2006 (with his solo debut The Eraser), ANIMA is well worth picking up, as Yorke and co-producer Nigel Godrich offer up evocative, off-kilter songs built around the twin attractions of the Radiohead man's distinctive vocals and skewed backing tracks rich in layered electronic noise, body-bending sub-bass, discordant synthesizer parts and intriguingly jaunty drum loops. Highlights are plentiful throughout, from the creepy, lo-fi ambient swirl of "Last I Heard (...He Was Circling the Drain)" and "Dawn Chorus" (a blissfully dewy-eyed early morning soundscape), to the low-slung, post-trip-hop hum of "I Am A Very Rude Person" and the fizzing, jazz-fired thrust of "Impossible Knots". Melancholic, yes. Deep and self-effacing, of course. Nihilistic, not really. Percussive futurist sub-pop is back.
Review: Eight albums in and Elbow still know how to keep us interested. This time round it's a record that seems caught in perpetual motion, refusing to stay still even for a minute off its proggyness, with this the LP most removed from their standard modus of hyper-emotive, string-capped anthemia. Not that the contents aren't huge and destined to fill main rooms and outdoor arenas. A refreshing break for a band that, while unarguably talented and accomplished craftsmen, may - in the eyes of some at least - have at times been guilty of opting for the safety of familiarity rather than braving the great unknowns of sound. If anything, then, "Giants Of All Sizes" is the final pour that cements their place in the pantheons of British music. Exquisite, innovative and highly original stuff.
Review: Is Stephen Duffy the UK's most underrated songwriter? Well, quite possibly, yes. It takes commitment and passion to lead a band for 30 years, especially when the outfit's line-up changes come thick and fast. Despite the inconsistent players, though, in that time the man at the centre of it all has built a back catalogue of exquisite work during that time. "Return To Us" isn't going to ruin that track record. It plays out like a parable of lilting folk fables underscored by a sense of nostalgia, delivered through the voice and song craft of a man whose life experiences have left him bruised and worn but never down and out. Melodic, emotive and engrossing, LP number ten is as timeless as the previous nine, leaving nobody under any illusions as to how precious this project really is.
Review: Justin Vernon's voice has always been the people's main attraction to Bon Iver, and the fact his pseudonym even exists is certainly no coincidence. As fragile and heartbroken as it is forthright and experienced, when you're wearing a shredded heart on sleeve and confessing to all your deepest insecurities using a pen name can help immensely. Album number four perhaps proves this more than any of its predecessors. While the three previous chapters have all made his thoughts, feelings, insecurities and fears clear, this one takes honesty to new heights. Combining the frail electronics that have gradually slipped their way into his back catalogue with the acoustics of his earliest, rocket-to-fame efforts, it's a culmination of all that's been in the truest sense. Perhaps even more intimate than the breathtakingly personal "For Emma, Forever Ago", "i,i" is a striking work to say the least.
After Upheavil (Richard H Kirk remix - Adi Newton Radical version)
Zulu (Richard H Kirk remix - Adi Newton dub version)
Review: Following the original dissolution of legendary Sheffield industrial funk outfit Clock DVA in 1984, founder member Adi Newton struck out on his own with The Anti-Group: an experimental project in which he could explore a variety of sonic worlds with the aid of a revolving cast of likeminded Steel City stalwarts (Richard H Kirk, Stephen Mallinder, Martyn Ware and Warp co-founder Robert Gordon included). "4x12" is a retrospective of sorts, gathering together tracks from three 12" singles ("Ha-Zulu", "Big Sex", "Broadcast Test") and one mini-album ("ShT"). Musically, it veers from collage style sample patchworks and dark ambient soundscapes to rubbery industrial funk, twisted post synth-pop, EBM-influenced workouts and madcap experimental escapades.
Review: Don't believe everything you read - the fifth Bat For Lashes album confirms this girl (or woman) found herself musically and thematically some time ago, freeing up creative energy to explore new approaches to deliver her often mournful, always heartfelt songs inspired by personal crises and private longings. On this outing there's more than a hint of 1980s pop evident in the mix. Shades of Prince ("Feel For You"), Madonna ("So Good"), Bowie's Berlin days and electro-era Gary Numan (the stunning, infectious instrumental "Vampires") cast the record in a nostalgia that suits the sense of yearning that always seems to pervade Natasha Khan's work. Simply name-checking reference points is lazy and unfair, though. This is an incredible collection of tracks moulded in the artist's own image - bold, beautiful and instantly captivating. Then again, it would be surprising if anyone had expected anything less.
Review: Eight albums in and !!! are still as hard to define than the band's name is difficult to say. They've always managed to resonate with the sound and zeitgeist of the year in which they release, and "Wallop" doesn't differ from that modus. An amalgamation of tones at once uptempo and hedonistic yet brutally damaged, it's an electronic album built in the way the genres it pays homage to originally were - blueprint free. We've got dance-rock crossovers, straight up techno (albeit aimed squarely at non-die-hard-heads) and bouncing broken funk-house hybrids, so what more do you want? "Couldn't Have Known" nods to classic Basement Jaxx. "Domino" takes us down an IDM wormhole, where we meet the aptly titled "Ur Paranoid" and its pulsating intensity. Simultaneously referencing Primal Scream, trip hop, Madchester, whatever that track that set the club off last night was while sounding like none of the above, it's archetypal !!! business.
Review: The Dark Entries label continue their impressive run of form with another killer reissue LP, this time by The Prefects member Joe Crow. Compulsion was Crow's first solo work from the early '80s and has been a digger's favourite for a long time, its itchy drum machine beats and disjointed guitar riffs being utterly singular at the time of the album's initial release. "Compulsion" itself is a mid-tempo beat jam containing Crow's own dreary vocals and beautiful synthesized keys. "Absent Friends" is slower, full of languish and life at the same time, while on the B-side, "Each To His Own" is the winner thanks to its punky aesthetic surrounded by that early 80's electronic oddity. A masterclass piece of music and an essential collector's item.
Review: Liam Gallagher is many things to many people, and one thing to everyone - authentic. It seems unthinkable we could question the indie roller's motives, or expect anything other than the "meat and veg rock" he described his own work as during a 2018 interview with The Guardian. "Why Me? Why Not" sees him take that mantra to new heights. As an album it's as accomplished and polished as anything this pied piper of the raw and unpolished has gifted us in the years after *that band*, making for an immediately engaging collection of anthems-in-the-making that will have crowds eating out of the palm of his hand as if they'd never seen his hand before, or tasted any of the food he's been feeding them for years now. And therein lies the reason it remains impossible to criticise this undeniably upfront British songwriter. Enough said.
Review: Following the release of Iggy Pop's last full length, Post Pop Depression, the much loved punk professional has teamed up with pioneering electronic dance musos Underworld (think "Born Slippy") via the request of Rick Smith. Album opener, "Bells & Circles", sees Iggy relive the days when you could smoke on an aeroplane, and in his case pick up an air hostess, while a rich and throaty yet somewhat forlorn 'hey' in "I'll See Big" offers a classic, almost narrated number of nostalgia, with a hint of reverb adding a sweetness to a not so bitter regalement of times gone by. Meanwhile, "Get Your Shirt" pitches the bliss of 80s new wave with mid-90s rave to create a glittering, electro pop jam fit for the stadium or Soho club. The glory years may be a memory for this formidable tripod however their sounds, combined, still hit the sweet spot.
Review: Where would we be without our mothers? Literally nowhere, of course, given the medical facts of life. But psychologically and spiritually somewhere very different, too. Just ask Devendra Banhart, whose latest, heartbreaking and poignant LP packs intimidating strength and thoughtful themes by the birth-giving load. Here the synths that dominated more recent albums are replaced by instruments best described as "a bit earthier", with strings and woodwinds joining brass and keys. Despite its title, this album is less a dedication to motherhood itself and more a meditation on emotional ties and links in general. "Memorial", for example, is about the death of Banhart's father, while elsewhere we are told love is like "crowd surfing in an empty club". As per usual, Banhart's songwriting verges on mania, recalling the late-Daniel Johnston's razor sharp observations wrapped in innocent imagery, while the instrumentation conjures Burt Bacharach and the like.
Review: Half journeyman, half David Lynch bar scene, all twisted crooner-dom, and at least a little tongue in cheek, Mike Patton & Jean Claude Vannier are aiming straight for the alternatives with this 12-strong collection of bizarre ballads and obscure odes that will appeal to rarer tastebuds. There's the spoken word and strummed guitars guiding us through the various parts of "A Schoolgirl's Day". The Sinatra-does-sarcasm of closer "Pink & Bleue", and the way "Hungry Ghost" aurally recalls "Everybody Knows" by Leonard Cohen. Truly unique stuff, despite its debt of gratitude to troubadour totems, counterculture rock and The Rat Pack, it's as rooted in the 21st Century as anything you'll hear today. The production process involved two creators in two different parts of the world, Patton and band in L.A., Vannier with a full orchestra in Vienna. Not that you can tell considering how complete the record feels.
Review: There's a stripped-down aesthetic to Chelsea Wolfe's return to the release schedule. It's not that 2017's "Hiss Spun", or "Abyss" two years earlier, were overblown. But here she pares things back to the essentials, with many tracks beginning on just vocals and a splash of acoustic guitar. The result shows off the raw talent at work, in turn offering a clear explanation of her enduring popularity. Despite the often minimalistic arrangements, "Birth Of Violence" is deceptively complex. Wolfe has explained it was inspired by exhaustion following perpetual tours and endless time on the road. You can certainly feel that. Her voice sounds as though it's hoping for hope, a change that feels almost out of reach but not unthinkable. It's a dark, desolate place at times, but in other moments packed with a determined energy and self-belief that things must always progress. Descriptions aside, believe us that this is completely unmissable.