From experimental rock to feminist pop-punk, April saw a shower of splendid albums that only a fool would ignore. Here are a few that piqued our attention.
11. Autolux – Pussy’s Dead
If Autolux have a fault, it’s that they sometimes seem to be trying a bit too hard. What could be a great three-minute wonder often gets needlessly stretched to four or five.
The craft that goes into the experimental L.A. trio’s albums, which seem to be a once-in-six-years occurrence, is commendable, but can leave them feeling a little overworked. I found that when I first heard their 2004 album ‘Future Perfect’, it sounded great, but I haven’t returned to it much since. I have a feeling it may be the same case with ‘Pussy’s Dead’. It feels like the opposite of a grower – a shrinker?
In its defence, Eugene Goreshter’s pleasantly out of key cooing of “it’s so sad to be happy all the time” is a highlight on opener ‘Selectallcopy’, as are the abrasive, raspy guitars on ‘Reappearing’ and ‘Becker’. It’s another solid record from a band who like to do things their own way, but a little spontaneity wouldn’t go amiss.
10. Bad Breeding – Self Titled
In a punk world that often seems more concerned with identity politics than politics at large, Stevenage punks Bad Breeding are a breath of fresh air. Their debut album, which they recently released for free, is a breakneck, raw nerved critical exploration of British society in 2016. Exploring such disparate issues as mental health (‘A Limp Shove’), abuses of power (‘A Cross’), and class (‘Shame’), the quartet’s anger is sometimes on the verge of unhinged, but ultimately remains tightly focused. They’ve also got some banging tunes. Witness ‘Age of Nothing’, ‘Burn This Flag’,and ‘Remembering’ for an education in how to balance melody and abrasiveness.
9. Deftones – Gore
As has been the case for twenty odd years, Deftones’ strength springs from the dichotomy of and strife between singer Chino Moreno’s post punk/goth/witch house leanings and guitarist Stef Carpenter’s love of extreme metal. After the spry and wiry last two albums, Gore sees the quintet move more towards Moreno’s more pensive and restrained interests. The results are denser and more atmospheric. They’re also murkier at times. As a result, the album sometimes misses clarity and force. More Saturday Night Wrist than Diamond Eyes. Still though. Deftones.
8. Explosions in the Sky – The Wilderness
I must admit, on first listen I didn’t realise I had listened to this album all the way through and it had started over again, but that only goes to show that Explosions in the Sky don’t write music for you to put it on casually in the background while playing Football Manager.
Several listens later though, I’m still struggling to warm to The Wilderness. Like all EotS’s work, it’s atmospheric and meticulous, but it feels unusually disjointed and more like a bunch of instrumentals than an album. That said, there are memorable moments, like the chugging bass of ‘Disintegration Anxiety’ and the euphoric end of ‘Colours in Space’. Maybe I need more than a month to get into this record, or maybe it’s just not up there with their last two.
7. Greys – Outer Heaven
Canadian noise-merchants Greys’ second album is an ambitious melting pot of tightly controlled indie rock and furious hardcore, sometimes within the same song (‘Strange World’). You’ve heard of the old grunge maxim of ‘quiet verse, loud chorus’, but these guys extend that to ‘slow verse, fast chorus’ in tracks like ‘No Star’, while cacophonous drums make ‘Blown Out’ another memorable moment.
It’s not always perfectly executed and in an album bristling with so many ideas, Greys might be well advised to pick one and stick to it, but I find it hard to be too critical of bands that try to write music that sounds like nothing else around.
6. Guided by Voices – Please Be Honest
In the days before Soccer Saturday, when a team scored more than six goals, BBC’s Final Score used write the number in words next to it for clarity and emphasis. So, to Guided By Voices’ album number 22 (twenty-two), and the band that has never really had a set-in-stone line-up finally does – it’s Robert Pollard on everything!
GBV have never put out a bad album, and 58-year-old Pollard isn’t about to buck that trend now. In particular, the title track has those wonderfully lazy yet laboured lo-fi guitars strumming their way through the verse in a way similar to on one of my favourite GBV songs ‘Smothered in Hugs’, before the catchy chorus kicks in. Whoever writes X-Factor songs needs to listen to Pollard’s verse-to-chorus transitions to learn how to make a key change sound good.
The first and last songs are classic GBV too and bookend the album nicely, and while one or two tracks leave you scratching your head, that’s all part of the band’s flawed charm.
5. Mogwai – Atomic
April 1st was like Christmas Day for fans of experimental post-rock, with Mogwai and Explosions in the Sky bringing out new material on the same day, and it’s the Scots who come out on top in this tussle with this meticulously cinematic oeuvre. It’s certainly not a raw as their 1990s work, but it feels like a real narrative, and is indeed a soundtrack to a BBC4 documentary on the atomic age.
There’s a really foreboding, mechanical drive to tracks like ‘Bitterness Centrifuge’, and ‘Pripyat’ is as bleak and creepy as the abandoned Ukrainian town it’s named after. ‘Are You A Dancer?’ offers something a little different with its mournful violins, adding to an album that succeeds in telling a story without uttering a word.
4. Pity Sex – White Hot Moon
Now on their second full-length album, Michigan four-piece Pity Sex bring us another dose likeable guitar-pop with a shoegazy edge and My Bloody Valentine style male/female vocals. Britty Drake’s fragile sounding voice and Brennan Greaves low computerized drone complement each other well, excelling on songs like ‘September’ and the title track where they trade lines. Both bring distinctive vocals to the slightly punky mix, even if Greaves can sound a little monotone when he takes the lead (‘Nothing Rips Through Me’).
There’s a lot of this kind of stuff about at the moment, but who cares? It sounds good!
3. September Girls – Age of Indignation
Spearheaded by the likes of Girls Names, Irish post-punk is developing an eerie, haunting and somewhat morbid sound all of its own. Dubliners September Girls are certainly doing their bit to cement this with a second album that deserves serious attention.
Right from opener ‘Ghost’, with its distant vocals lost in a fog of swirling guitars, a gothic and claustrophobic mood is set. This is explored further in songs like ‘Catholic Guilt’ and single ‘Love No One’. The album peaks on it’s penultimate track ‘Quicksand’, where Paula Cullen crows ‘how long till I hit the bottom and disappear?’ with scarred Celtic tones reminiscent of Dolores O’Riordan.
A real grower – this album did nothing for me on first listen.
2. Tacocat – Lost Time
When immersed in post-punk, math rock and experimental this and that, it’s easy to forget how brilliant bratty pop-punk can sound. Wrapping her tongue around Ramones-style topics of what she likes (Seattle) and doesn’t like (the weekend and horse-obsessed girls), Emily Nokes and her Washington quartet rattle through 12 tracks that pack plenty of punch in this infectious third album.
It’s not all laughing and joking though, with a feminist edge evident in songs like ‘Men Explain Things To Me’ and ‘FDP’. All in all, Lost Time is relevant without being preachy, fun without being throwaway, and is a great soundtrack to being young and socially aware.
1. *ALBUM OF THE MONTH*
Parquet Courts – Human Performance
Having brought us two albums during 2014, a wait until a third of the way through 2016 for a follow-up feels like an extended hiatus by Parquet Courts’ standards. Luckily, the Texans-turned-New Yorkers seem to have quality albums oozing out of themselves.
There’s a little more melancholy infiltrating ‘Human Performance’ than has been the case on previous Courts albums, and it’s none the worse for it. Songs like ‘Berlin Got Blurry’ drip with sincerity, maintaining the band’s perfect blend of New York garage rock and Western twang. ‘Paraphrased’ and the Velvet Underground-esque ‘One Man No City’ are stonkers, the furious shout-along ‘Two Dead Cops’ shows that you only need one note to make a great chorus, and what better way to wrap up an album than with the haunting, lullaby-like ‘It’s Gonna Happen?’
You get the feeling Parquet Courts have a lot more left in them, and they needn’t change it one jot.